By Bobbie Randall
The messages on my answering machine are unlike those of anyone else. Take for example the latest one that was overheard by a woman not in a health care field. The man on the phone had a gravelly voice and stated in a very blunt manner that he had constipation. I listened as he tried to describe what he was not able to do. The lady in my office was so surprised that she could not decide to laugh or turn red. The topic of constipation can be so personal and embarrassing but for others it is just another fact of life.
The message man requested my advice to aid the movement of his bowels. The best remedy for constipation is fiber. I once heard someone refer to fiber as an enigma. Webster’s Dictionary says that an enigma is a puzzle or riddle; something not be easily explained. I find the definition confusing because of all the nutrients, fiber is the least complicated.
There are two types of fiber. Medical research has categorized them as soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is the sticky indigestible goop that is associated with oatmeal and okra. Insoluble fiber is what I’m talking about, the seeds, hulls, bran and skins of fruits, vegetables and grains. When insoluble fiber is consumed, it is chewed and swallowed just like the other foods that we eat. It enters our digestive track and keeps moving. Never is it broken down into more than what it is, insoluble fiber. It never enters the blood stream as other nutrients do. That is why it is often called the “nonnutrient” nutrient. To call it a puzzle, an enigma, seems like a stretch.
The gruff guy on the phone remembered fiber as it used to be called, roughage. Roughage is the undigested portion of plants that passes through our gastrointestinal tract. In other words, roughage is insoluble fiber.
Just as rocks, sticks, leaves and tree branches scour the banks of a stream after a sudden thunder storm, fiber in the digestive tract scours wastes from the body. The cereal company founder, John Harvey Kellogg, son of a Battle Creek, Michigan broom maker advised eating fiber because “it would ‘sweep’ the bowels clean.”
Water and other fluids have a vital role in digestion. Some of the fluid body waste flows from the kidneys to the bowels. There the waste water is absorbed by the fiber and eliminated. This process is not rocket science. To call fiber a riddle or an enigma is ignoring the fact that what goes in must either be used up or disposed. Fiber is the vehicle of disposal. It sounds pretty simple to me.
Insoluble fibers are nothing more than the roughage that moves the bulk wastes through the system. Insoluble fiber is not a puzzle or a riddle. It has the necessary function of transporting unwanted or unused body gunk through the gut.
How puzzling is it to imagine fiber functioning through the gastrointestinal tract? It’s not hard to explain the effects of adequate fiber in the diet. In fact, it’s rather simple, without enough fiber and water, constipation occurs and the gut has difficulty passing the waste. Perhaps the puzzle or enigma is in the explanation of the process. Giggles occur when referring to the lower bowel and its function. By the way, laughing is intestinal gymnastics and can aid constipation. Have a good laugh.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator and a registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a diabetes self-management training program at Aultman-Orrville Hospital, Orrville. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-684-4776.