Back in November 2011, I explained that children who “refuse” to have bowel movements in the potty or are “holding” their stool for days on end aren’t misbehaving, they’re constipated. Recently, I saw some published studies (click here and here) that showed that constipation can also cause pants-wetting and bed-wetting accidents. Those studies showed that the problem could often be solved by giving the child laxatives. A better solution would be to feed the child a diet that would prevent constipation to begin with: a plant-based diet with no dairy products.
A friend of mine recently had a brush with death. She was unknowingly carrying a time bomb in her large intestine, and when it went off, it nearly took her with it. She had a diverticular abscess, which burst and thus allowed the bacteria to get into her abdominal cavity. That caused a problem called peritonitis.
All things considered, she got off easy. She had to have emergency surgery to remove the damaged portion of her large intestine and clean up the mess in her abdomen. She may have a fierce-looking scar, but she’s alive, and she can still go to the bathroom normally, instead of into a colostomy bag on her side.
The problem started when part of the wall of her large intestine “ballooned out” to form a little pouch called a diverticulum. When you have these diverticula, the condition is called diverticulosis. Here’s what diverticulosis looks like, from inside the large intestine:
About half of Americans over 50 years of age have diverticulosis and don’t even know it. Diverticulosis may cause mild, intermittent symptoms of pain and bloating in the lower left side of the belly. It may cause bouts of diarrhea and constipation. It is a common cause of rectal bleeding in people over 40 years of age. Or it may cause no symptoms at all. If one of the diverticula gets infected, the condition is called diverticulitis. It’s just like appendicitis, except that the symptoms are worse on the lower left, rather than the lower right, side of the belly. If the inflamed diverticulum bursts, you can end up with life-threatening peritonitis.
Diverticular disease is common in the United States. However, it’s rare in places like Africa and Asia, where people eat a high-fiber, plant-based diet. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the best treatment for most cases of diverticulosis is a high-fiber diet. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are helpful, because they retain water and make the stool softer and easier to pass. If the muscles of the large intestine don’t have to strain so hard, they won’t generate the high pressure that can cause a diverticulum to form.
Some doctors say that people with diverticulosis should avoid eating small seeds, such as those in tomatoes or raspberries. However, the NIDDK says that there is no scientific information to support that recommendation.
Dairy products increase the risk for diverticulosis by causing constipation. When dairy protein is digested, it can produce morphine-like compounds that slow down the muscles that are supposed to push food through the intestines.
To prevent diverticulosis, prevent constipation. Eat lots and lots of unrefined starches and vegetables. Avoid dairy products. A diet like that is also good for maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your cholesterol and blood sugar, and preventing osteoporosis.
Yesterday, a friend of mine told me about a four-year-old boy who was “resisting” being toilet trained. She said that the child would urinate in the toilet but that he’d “hold it” for three days rather than defecate in his potty. I told her that I couldn’t imagine that anybody who eats a high-fiber vegan diet could “hold it” for three days, even if he tried, unless he was taking morphine or some other drug that shuts down gut motility. I said that the child’s problem didn’t sound to me like resistance to potty training. It sounded like constipation. His refusal to go on the potty probably reflects the fact that his bowel movements are uncomfortable or even agonizingly painful, and it’s probably because he’s being fed dairy products and a lot of processed food. She admitted that the poor child was being fed cow’s milk and wasn’t eating much fruit and vegetables or even whole grains.
Think about it. If you are a toddler or preschooler and have had some painful experiences on the potty, wouldn’t you avoid the potty the way you’d avoid any torture device? Painful experiences have trained the child to avoid the potty. I can only hope that the poor child’s caregivers aren’t adding to the child’s misery by punishing him for failing to use the potty.
Bowel movements aren’t supposed to hurt. If a child’s bowel movements are infrequent or difficult, there is something wrong. The usual cause of the problem is the diet.
Cow’s milk and other dairy products are a common cause of severe constipation in children. The digestion of casein, which is the major protein in cow’s milk, produces protein fragments that are called casomorphins because they have drug effects that are similar to those of morphine. Besides being slightly addictive, casomorphins can cause severe constipation. Fortunately, human beings do not need to consume any cow’s milk products at all, ever.
A low-fiber diet is also a common contributing cause of constipation in children. Animal-based foods all contain zero fiber, and refined plant foods contain very little fiber. As a result, the standard American diet, which is based on animal-source foods (including dairy products) and refined foods, is a recipe for constipation. It is also a major cause of appendicitis, which can be deadly. If all of the foods that a child is offered contain fiber, the child will eat fiber.
Often, a child’s refusal to use the potty is viewed as a problem with the child’s behavior. However, I think that when a child doesn’t poop for three or more days, it’s probably the caregiver, not the child, who is misbehaving. The caregiver is probably failing to feed the child the kind of diet that would enable the child to have normal bowel movements. Any healthcare professional who suggests drug treatments–even over-the-counter laxatives–or behavioral interventions without teaching the caregivers how to correct the child’s diet is also misbehaving, in my humble opinion.