Question: I am a 35 year old male and I have been troubled with intermittent abdominal pain for many years. The pain is kind of crampy and seems to come and go in no particular pattern. My primary care doctor has done the full workup, upper and lower GI, x-rays, blood tests, etc. and tells me everything is normal and that I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I asked him about my bowel patterns (about every other day) and was told this is normal. Can you help me with this as I just don’t feel quite right.
Answer: The question you bring up is one that I often hear in my practice. At the heart of the question is “what are normal bowel habits?” Surprisingly, in this seemingly fundamental subject there is little consensus and almost no discussion. You may be surprised to learn that in all the years of medical school and postgraduate training, the subject of normal bowel habits was never brought up or discussed. I guess we were supposed to sort this out on our own. Most doctors feel that everyone has his own unique pattern which is normal for him—some people have bowel movements two or three times a day and others two or three times per week. Either is considered OK. However, the research of Denis Burkett, a British physician who lived and worked in Africa for many years, contradicts this view. He noted that Africans eating their traditional diet have between one to three substantial bowel movements every day and that the transit time (amount of time between ingestion and excretion) is 24 hours or less. He believed that there was a connection between the ease of elimination these people experienced and the very low incidence of various bowel diseases (hemorrhoids, appendicitis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gall bladder disease and cancer of the colon.) Dr. Burkett attributed this robust bowel health and absence of bowel disease to the high amount of fiber, both soluble and insoluble in the native African Diet. This is certainly part of the explanation, although high amounts of fermented foods (which contribute to beneficial flora in the intestines), use of bitter vegetables and herbs (which stimulate the bile and therefore aid in the digestion of fats) and liberal consumption of foods rich in vitamin D such as insects and dried shrimp (vitamin D is very important for the health of the colon) are also likely factors. Another factor is the African method for preparing high fiber foods, which invariably involves soaking and fermenting, because while dietary fiber speeds elimination time, high fiber foods that have not been prepared correctly can be very irritating and can actually damage the villi in the small intestine, leading to poor absorption. It seems, therefore, that the key is not solely the fiber content (which is why adding Metamucel, a source of insoluble fiber to the normal American diet is at best a poor solution) but the whole diet, including preparation methods, as well as daily exercise such as walking, gardening, swimming, etc.
Your problem sounds like IBS from constipation. Having this lifelong bowel pattern gradually weakens the walls of the intestine, leading to a tendency to spasm. Often a diet that leads to this type of bowel pattern produces deficiencies in minerals, especially magnesium, which further exacerbates the problem. My guess is that if you do the following, your bowel movements will become regular inside of one month, your cramps will end and in general you will feel an improved sense of well being.
1. Eat a more traditional diet as outlined in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, with emphasis on plenty of properly prepared whole grains, and vitamin D rich foods like butter and shell fish. Cod liver oil as a supplement will provide additional vitamin D.
2. Every morning, grind one tablespoon flax seeds in a mini grinder and add to 4-8 ounces Beet Kvass. Soak five minutes and drink. This is an excellent source of fiber, enzymes and special fatty acids.)
3. Before bed, use 1/2-1 teaspoon Swedish Bitters in warm water. (This will help stimulate the bile.)
4. Three times a week, for one hour, put a castor oil compress over the abdomen. (This will help stimulate and detoxify the intestinal tract.) You will need some cold pressed castor oil, flannel clothes, plastic wrap and an electric heating pad. Saturate the flannel with castor oil and lay it over the abdomen. Cover with saran wrap and lay the heating pad on for one to two hours. The pad should set from medium to high—don’t burn yourself. Soaked flannel can be stored in a plastic bag and reused.
5. Engage in some moderate, enjoyable exercise such as walking, swiming, rebounding or gardening at least 20 to 30 minutes per day.
Copyright: ©1999 Tom Cowan. All Rights Reserved. First published in Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Health Journal🖨️ Print post
This is an amazing and very informative article. Thank you! I have one question regarding hemorrhoids, are they curable? thanks again and God Bless
Lori Ann Ryan,RHN says
Witch hazel soaked organic cotton balls with all the above mentioned protocol may be helpful.
Horse chestnut and hawthorn can be helpful for healing hemorrhoids, although it will tak a few months of consistent use along with a good diet. Dr. Richard Whelan’s website has good information on these herbs and their recommended usage.
Clara Malkerson says
ALL FIBER IS NOT CREATED EQUAL—AND METAMUCIL IS NOT INSOLUBLE BUT SOLUBLE FIBER
I am a strong supporter and longtime follower of WAPF and the WAPF diet. Unfortunately, I disagree with Dr Cowan on this article. I have suffered with IBS for many years and was on the WAPF-approved diet for 15 years—and it wasn’t fixing me. I started on the castor oil packs but they only made me sicker. What was wrong? It wasn’t until a friend handed me a book by Karen Hurd (“And They Said It Wasn’t Possible”) that I was finally able to get control of things; three days on her diet and I was cured completely. She may not adhere to the WAPF diet but she is still healing Crohn’s disease, and how? With the inclusion of a high amount of SOLUBLE FIBER, coupled with initial elimination of INSOLUBLE FIBER (like whole grains) . This article is at fault for not pointing out the role that soluble fiber has historically played in most diets throughout history, including ALL European diets. Note the cowboy and his beans, the Greek and the Roman and their lentils, the Confederate and his blackeyed peas, the Europeans’ love of beans forever remembered through Annibale Carracci’s “The Bean Eater”, 1585. SYNOPSIS: The key to healing the gut is through SOLUBLE FIBER (ie, beans and yes, even psyllium husk—which is what Metamucil is made from) and the elimination of INSOLUBLE FIBER until such healing has been established, with the gradual return to a full WAPF diet (while still retaining a high soluble fiber intake). The secret is in the body’s manufacture of bile. If bile is not removed from the body (with all the toxins it has picked up), it is recycled (yes, along with the toxins!). Soluble fiber attracts bile and binds to it, carrying it out along with all the toxins therein contained. The liver then makes new, fresh bile, to bind with toxins, bile that can HOLD more toxins because it’s fresh. Bile CANNOT bind to INSOLUBLE fiber (like whole grains), only to SOLUBLE (like beans and lentils). How do I know this for sure? Because I lived it.
Hi Clara, I just started her protocol too. Did you see worsening of symptoms at first? I’m just starting day 3 but the diarrhea has been worse so far for me… I couldn’t find anything mentioning that possibility.
You might need to go slower and eat beans more often.
I found that the first week I was gassy but then it cleared up
if your having loose bowels then try a smaller amount of beans
Hello Clara, thank you so much for your reply to the article. I have been following Karen Hurd’s bean protocol for three months and have seen improvement in my digestion. I’m wondering if you (or anyone) has had some thoughts on the differences in Karen Hurd’s view of saturated fat versus Sally Fallon’s? I would really love to talk with someone about this.
Years ago i came across this on the internet.
A man got this advice from an old doctor for constipation:
First thing in the morning, drink 2-3 glasses of room temperature or warmer of water. It was explained that the first 2 glasses rehydrate your intestines and the third reaches your colon.
This works very consistently for me. I usually get the urge after only 2 glasses. I’m a small woman.
BM is very soft and fast.
I find that I don’t seem to have much of a thirst mechanism. I don’t feel thirst. Which might explain my chronic constipation as a child.
Water was what I needed, not fiber.