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.
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.
Gorillas are leaf-eaters (folivores). Eating any other kind of diet makes them sick.
Photo by skuds
A recent article in the New York Times argued that gorillas stay slim because they eat a high-protein diet. While I’m glad to see someone else point out that a plant-based diet provides adequate amounts of protein, I’m annoyed to see scientists and journalists misunderstand and misrepresent the real significance of this fact. It’s as if they haven’t read the basic literature on nutrition and can’t understand arithmetic.
Yes, the gorilla’s natural diet is high in protein, as a percentage of calories. However, the gorillas’ natural food tends to be low in calories, because the calories are diluted by water and fiber. Gorillas have to eat an enormous amount of food every day to get enough calories. When human volunteers tried to eat a gorilla-style diet for a short period of time to see how it would affect their cholesterol levels, they had to spend more than 8 hours a day eating, just to get enough calories to keep from losing weight during the trial. Gorillas stay slim because of the high fiber content and low fat content of their food, not because of the balance of protein to carbohydrate in their food!
The biggest dietary challenge for a gorilla, as for any leaf-eater, is to get enough calories. When they eat a relatively high-protein diet, they just end up converting the excess protein to sugar and burning it for energy. Unfortunately, protein is “dirty sugar.” Burning protein for energy produces waste products such as urea and sulfuric acid.
People can stay very slim on a high-carbohydrate diet, if it is also high in fiber and low in fat. For example, when Chris Voigt of the Washington State Potato Commission decided to go on a potato-only diet as a publicity stunt, he figured that he had to eat 20 potatoes a day. In practice, he found it really hard to eat his entire potato ration, because potatoes are so filling. As a result, he lost a lot of weight. Even when he made an effort to eat his entire potato ration every day, he continued to lose weight. That’s because a starchy diet improves insulin sensitivity and thus revs up your metabolism. People who eat starchy diets burn more calories than people on fatty diets. Voigt lost 21 pounds during his 60-day potato diet. His cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and even his blood sugar levels decreased!
According to the New York Times, Dr. Raubenheimer claimed that modern societies “are diluting the concentration of protein in the modern diet. But we eat to get the same amount of proteins we needed before, and in so doing, we’re overeating.” What nonsense!
Nutrition scientists have known for more than 100 years that human protein needs are modest and are easily met by any reasonable plant-based diet. Also, the societies with the biggest problem with obesity are also the ones with the highest protein intake! Modern societies are consuming too much fat and too little fiber. Animal foods are a big offender, because they contain fat but no fiber and usually no digestible carbohydrate. Refined foods are also a big offender, because they represent the concentrated calories from plants–with the fiber and other wholesome things stripped out.
The take-home lesson from the gorilla story shouldn’t have been that people need to eat more protein. It’s that people need to eat plants. If people don’t want to spend 8 hours a day eating leafy vegetables, they can eat some nice, filling potatoes or other starchy staples along with plenty of vegetables and fruit.
I just heard about a “new” diet: the Dukan diet. It’s from France! It promises four steps to permanent weight loss! It promises that people will lose weight while eating as much as they like! The problem is that this “new” diet isn’t really new. It’s just South Beach with a French accent. The quick results from the first phase aren’t from fat loss. Nor will your weight problem be permanently cured by the end of the program, regardless of what Dr. Dukan says. It’s just more false hope for desperate people.
Like many fad diets, the Dukan diet starts with a low-carb phase. As if by magic, this phase causes people to lose several pounds very quickly. Unfortunately, the weight that people lose so quickly does not represent fat. Instead, it represents the loss of the body’s glycogen stores. Glycogen is a starch that is stored in the liver and muscles. When the body needs quick energy, the glycogen is broken down into glucose, which is a sugar that is the body’s favorite fuel.
Like other carbohydrates, glycogen provides about 4 calories per gram of dry weight. However, the glycogen in the body isn’t dry. Each gram of glycogen absorbs about 2.7 grams of water. As a result, each gram of wet glycogen in the body represents roughly 1 calorie of stored energy. If you suddenly deprive yourself of carbohydrates, your body will run through its glycogen stores very quickly, releasing water that will leave the body through the kidneys. You would have to burn up almost 9 times as many calories to lose that much weight from fat.
The rapid weight loss that results from cutting out carbohydrates may be thrilling to the frustrated dieter, but it is meaningless. Nobody is overweight from having too much glycogen, and your body will replace that glycogen and water as soon as it can. What people really want to lose is fat. Besides, losing your glycogen can make you feel crummy. When marathoners “hit the wall,” it’s typically because they’re run out of glycogen.
So the first phase of the Dukan diet or the South Beach Diet will cause a quick but temporary and meaningless weight loss that could end up zapping your energy. If the Dukan diet eventually helps you lose fat, it does so by making your body think that you are starving or seriously ill. During a sudden fast, the body’s supply of carbohydrates is cut off. The body has to rely on its fat stores and the proteins in its tissues instead. A low-carb diet mimics this condition. The body may respond to this emergency by suppressing the appetite. The person may then lose weight the old-fashioned way, by taking in fewer calories than he or she burns up.
The Dukan diet is based on a lie: that people get fat from eating a high-carb diet. In reality, fat is fattening, and starches are slimming. That’s because starch, like glycogen, holds water. It’s actually hard to fatten yourself on starches. For example, consider what happened when the head of the Washington State Potato Commission went on an all-potato diet to protest the exclusion of potatoes from the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. He lost 21 pounds in 60 days, even though he was eating about 20 potatoes per day. He also cut his total cholesterol by over a third, and lowered his blood sugar. In other words, he also improved his health.
A starchy diet works on both sides of the weight loss equation. You end up eating fewer calories, because the starchy foods are so bulky. Boiled starches often provide only 1 calorie per gram, whereas fat provides 9 calories per gram. You also end up burning more calories on a low-fat, high-carb diet, because you become much more sensitive to insulin. If you still manage to have a few calories left over, it’s hard for your body to store them as fat. You’d lose about 30% of the calories in the conversion process, so your body just generally revs up your metabolism to burn off the excess. You may end up doing more activity, or simply generating more body heat.
Forget Dukan’s false promises. The only proven way to achieve healthy, permanent weight loss is to switch to a low-fat, high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet. That’s because it’s the kind of diet that is appropriate to the human body. If you simply train yourself to eating the right kinds of food, you can eat as much as you like and still stay slim.
It’s Probably an Important Cause of Ulcerative Colitis in Humans, As Well.
“Ulcerative colitis” means open sores in the large intestine, which is also called the colon. This condition can cause severe abdominal pain and cramping as well as bloody diarrhea. The “leaky gut syndrome” that results can cause joint pain and make the person feel sick all over.
Wild gorillas eat an extremely high-fiber diet, consisting mainly of leaves. Captive gorillas that were fed a low-fiber diet were prone to severe ulcerative colitis. The same thing might be happening in people with ulcerative colitis.
High-fiber vegetables and fruits have several beneficial effects on the large intestine:
- Fiber absorbs water and keeps the material inside the intestines nice and soft.
- Fiber makes everything go through faster, which means that the wall of the intestine gets less exposure to harmful substances, such as bile acids and free ammonia.
- High-fiber fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients and antioxidants that are good for the health of the intestines, as well as the rest of the body.
- Bacteria in the large intestine ferment some of the fiber, releasing short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which is the favorite fuel of the cells that line the large intestine. On a low-fiber diet, those cells could starve to death.
Are Researchers Barking Up the Wrong Tree?
When I looked up what clinical trials were being done on ulcerative colitis (http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=ulcerative+colitis&pg=12), I found lots of trials of drug treatments, some trials of “probiotics” (bacterial cultures), a few trials of surgical treatments, and even a few trials of psychotherapy and hypnosis. There were some studies in which people receive butyrate in high-colonic enemas. There were even some trials in which people were fed mare’s milk or fish. Apes don’t milk mares or catch fish, so why would anyone imagine that people would have to do that to keep their intestines healthy?
In other words, there were 224 clinical trials involving all sorts of drugs and surgery and so on, but no clinical trials trying the obvious therapeutic approach, which is a change to a healthy diet. We know that a low-fiber diet causes ulcerative colitis in gorillas, which have a digestive system almost identical to our own. We also know that eating wheat products can cause bloody diarrhea in a tiny minority of the population. So why isn’t anyone doing research about how to counsel people to solve this problem by correcting their diet? Here’s a link to a description of a simple yet healthful exclusion diet: http://www.drmcdougall.com/med_allergic.html
If you want your colon to be healthy, you have to feed it properly. If you already have ulcerative colitis or any other problem with your intestines, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian (RD) for dietary advice.