Health & Fitness

We ended last month wondering how to banish our IBS. Metamucil helps, but now we'll see the real cure for many of us. Media and clinical physician and medical literature researcher Dr. Gabe Mirkin chronicles the constipation/diarrhea cycle this way:

  1. We plug our intestine with a very common food, very little food can squeeze past the plug, and we get constipated.
  2. Our intestines swell with the residue of our last 2, then 10, then 20 meals, with several results. a) The bowel protests with painful cramps that many women say dwarf their menstrual cramps. b) The fecal material ferments, sending our aroma, waistline, and friends into the Gamma Quadrant. c) We visit the bathroom many times a day, thinking ***SURELY*** this is The Big One, that our troubles are over. d) But, nooooo, we're just playing marbles with ourselves, metaphorically akin to Jeraldo opening Capone's safe por nada. e) Now the discomfort dominates our day. We can't button our pants, our

    belly button flies across the room to imbed itself in the sheet rock, every bite of food sends even its male victims into apparent labor pains, the dog -- the same one who loves to roll in dead fish and the dirty diaper bin -- snarls and runs teary-eyed from the room at every rumble from our chair and its invisible portent, and our favorite four-letter word becomes a fond memory ... and our primary life's goal. f) Then one day we pass a virtual brick -- square corners and all, it seems --  and leave the bathroom a little lighter. And a lot happier, now that the plug is breaking up. Over the next few days we not-so-fondly review the last two weeks' menu, way too rapidly, because ...

  3. We just morphed from the God-I-wanna-POOP constipation phase to the God-make-it-STOP diarrhea phase. Not only has the plug passed, but the dam has burst, the hounds are loose, we're in afterburner. The dog now insists on its own toilet to drink from, the bathroom vent fan clogs, and the family starts using the neighbor's bathroom (at least until both families' IBS cycles synchronize). The painful, futile cramps of constipation are but a memory -- a highly preferable one.
  4. Then, aahhhhhhh, our gut relaxes, and reminds us how one of life's greatest simple pleasures is SUPPOSED to work. We do something once or twice a month that many people take for granted every day at 9:35 AM -- we take an ordinary dump. Please excuse the crudity, but this becomes an EVENT in many of our lives. We pass a few of those things we played with at 2, snickered about at 10, and took for granted until this IBS curse hit the fan in our 20s or 30s -- stools.
  5. But this lasts only a few days, until we plug up our intestines again, and return to Step 1.

Given all that, why don't you stop plugging your intestines? Is refined flour really worth all that misery? That's what Dr. Mirkin and his cured patients believe plugs the intestines to cause IBS. Experience and logic have convinced them that because refined flour has no fiber to retain water to maintain the slurry form our digestive tract prefers, the flour reverts to a ball of dough in our digestive tract as the intestine pulls more and more nutrient-filled water from its contents. Soon the refined doughball resembles a refined cannonball, and it's too big for the cannon barrel.

Now the solution should be clear: stop eating all that Plug Helper and start eating real FOOD. Grain starts out as food, but is usually ground and bleached and reduced to sugars which scientists enrich with some of the vitamins and minerals they removed because White Bread Sells. In other words, they converted FOOD into sugar plus a vitamin pill. Did you know kids used to bounce balls of white bread off the floor and walls before another scientist invented the SuperBall? Do you want a SuperBall in your gut?

The most likely IBS preventative for many of us is to stop eating processed, enriched, bleached flour. No more bagels, pasta, buttermilk pancakes, enriched bread, cake, refined cereals, cookies, etc. for us. Start reading labels in the store; if the first ingredient is enriched flour, it can plug you up. Put it back on the shelf unless its first ingredient is a whole grain, usually whole wheat. You may actually have to buy your bread from an odd source -- a BAKERY -- to get breads based on whole grains, because most supermarket bread is the refined, bleached, enriched, processed Plug Helper that makes so many of us so miserable so often. And, get this ... you will actually TASTE your bread for a change. Surely you've noticed White Bread tastes like whatever you spread on it, plus maybe sugar.

Duh .... it IS essentially sugar. It's no longer grain; it's sugar made from grain. That shot of sugar we call White Bread contributes not only to IBS but also to the development, progression, and episodes of adult-onset diabetes in overweight people. We'll discuss the diabetes-sugar link in a future column.

The next, correct, longer-range step is buying a whole grains cook book and buying and cooking healthier food. We'll discuss that soon, too. You're in for a TREAT if you've not discovered the secret of making fresh hearty breads one of the tastiest parts of a meal.

Also, my own IBS experience and my engineer's logic tells me we can defuse our occasional pasta, pancake, or bagel eating contest (in which the only losers are IBS patients) with Ye Olde Vacuum Cleaner Dust. Surely taking Metamucil right there at  the table with the little refined flour we just have to have will mix the fiber into the anti-fiber, preventing the ball of dough from congealing into The Plug.

Stop eating Plug Helper today. Start eating several servings of whole grains -- and vegetables and fruits -- each day. Ordinary salads don't help; lettuce has almost no useful fiber. Some of nature's best foods -- beans -- are full of fiber. We'll air out that topic soon, too. In the meantime, mix some extra fiber, readily available in Metamucil and its generic equivalents, into your stomach with any occasional refined flour snacks you refuse to give up. If you go cold turkey on refined flours for a few weeks or months, you may find yourself so happy to be free of IBS that you won't be tempted by doughnuts ever again.

The elimination of refined flour from your diet will improve your enjoyment of two of life's simple pleasures -- one in the dining room, one in the bathroom. Save your cannonballs for the enemy.