Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vitamin C and fibre -- it'll move you

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What's the only cure for alcoholics? Alcoholics Anonymous. It advises people to pour alcohol down the drain. What we need is another organization, called Constipation Anonymous, to preach the same message to those who cripple their bowels by the chronic use of laxatives. But there is a safe, cheap, natural cure, unknown to 99.9 per cent of the population, that cures daily grunting on the john.

Barnum and Bailey, the circus promoters, used to say, "There's a sucker born every day." They could be referring to people who fall prey to high-powered ads and spend millions of dollars treating constipation.

Busy doctors usually have little time to discuss this common malady with patients. So all too often patients with constipation seek out their own cure at the local pharmacy. Eventually, this practice destroys the nerves in the bowel, which means a lifetime of laxative use.

Many years ago, I was interviewing Dr. Linus Pauling, the only two-time Nobel Prize winner. The purpose was to discuss his research on vitamin C and its role in preventing cardiovascular disease. But during our meeting, he made a chance remark that surprised me. He said, "I also take vitamin C as a safe, natural way to cure constipation." So what dose did he use and how does it work?

No specific dose fits everyone's bowels so it requires a little self-experimentation. But it's advisable to begin with a lower amount and gradually increase it as too much can result in diarrhea and rarely abdominal pain.

A good start is to take 2,000 milligrams with the evening meal and another 2,000 mg with breakfast. But don't be discouraged if this dose does not work.

The majority of my patients get the best results using 5,000 mg in the evening and another 5,000 mg with breakfast. This often results in a bowel movement prior to leaving for work.

But there's another proviso. Breakfast should not be a quick cup of coffee and then a run to work.

Breakfast must include a bowl of fibre such as All Bran, Fiber First, Fiber One or another high bran cereal. Add a banana or some other fruit. And while having breakfast, it's also important to enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea.

Why does this routine work? The fact that vitamin C is a natural laxative is the main reason. But it gets help from a natural physiological nerve mechanism called "the gastrocolic reflex." A high-fibre breakfast stimulates nerves in the colon to trigger a bowel movement.

I realize ham and eggs for breakfast may be more appealing than a bowl full of bran. If that's the case, they and C will, in all probability, still cure constipation. But it works better with high-fibre cereal. Besides, the majority of people are not getting their required 45 grams of fibre daily. It's this lack of fibre that creates hard rock-like stools and constipation. Stools should be soft like toothpaste.

Stools as soft as toothpaste provide other benefits. Less straining to produce a bowel movement reduces the risk of diverticulosis, small hernias of the colon, and there's some evidence it may reduce the risk of cancer of the large bowel.

Are there any complications from the consumption of large amounts of vitamin C, apart from the chance of diarrhea?

There has been a long-standing belief that high levels of C will cause kidney stones. But no significant medical evidence of this has been reported. In fact, since the majority of kidney stones form in alkaline urine, and since vitamin C acidifies urine, there is less chance of this happening. Pauling took 20,000 mg daily for years and lived to 95.

The least expensive way to obtain vitamin C is to purchase 500 grams of ascorbic acid powder, which is vitamin C. This can be ordered through any of the major pharmacies. A flat teaspoon equals 5,000 mg, which can be mixed with a small amount of orange juice. And the grunting should end.

Remember, I am not your doctor so always check with your own physician on medical matters.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2010 A25

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