Constipation: A Symptom of Toxemia (Part 2 of 2)
Sussanna Czeranko, ND
“Purgery is the Great American Sin”1
It is quite safe to assert that chronic bowel stagnation inflicts upon mankind vastly more misery, suffering and deaths than any of the great dramatic ‘killing diseases’, such as cancer, tuberculosis, heart disease, etc., which are largely caused by that trouble.2
J. Ellis Barker, 1927
Last month, we had a look at the extensive dialogue occurring among our early 20th century naturopathic elders on the subject of constipation. It remains for us to survey how our forebears treated constipation. Their approaches ranged from fasting to poisonous purgatives.
Tilden suggested in 1924, “to cure constipation … means to restore the nervous system and blood to normal.”3 When asked whether the use of “castor oil, cascara sagrada, calomel, compound cathartic pills or any other laxatives, purgatives or cathartics [could] ever ‘cure’ chronic constipation”, Tilden himself and other naturopathic doctors confessed that these measures were either constipating or deadly.4 Yet, despite the toxicity of the drugs used to relieve constipation 100 years ago, more than $75 million [almost $1 billion in contemporary currency] was spent annually on them.4
The effects of these purgatives on children were not overlooked. Louise Lust, for example, declared that all purgatives caused constipation and that “castor oil forced down infants [was] one great cause of their subsequent alimentary difficulties.”5 Alternatively, her sage advice for the treatment of diarrhea and ‘feverish states’ included cold wet bandages … plus bilberry tea and boiled mullein root to be taken as an astringent. Her counsel for mothers was to get to know simple teas, to trust Nature, and to “regulate the bowels by foods instead of medicine.”5
Tilden had a somewhat different focus. He warned mothers, “don’t over feed children,” especially when they are sick. In fact, his recommendation was no food until they regained health. “The enlarged tonsils, adenoids, and constipation will gradually disappear under this treatment,” he said, adding, “and the Toxemia will subside, leaving the children with normal resistance and full physical and mental efficiency.”6 “A child that is given meat and eggs and an excess of milk is liable to develop putrefactive diseases.”7
Poise or Self-Discipline
In Tilden’s view, diet was not all that was necessary for remedying constipation. “The mind and the body must be poised,” he urged.8 By ‘poise’ he meant ‘equanimity’ and, in a sense, ‘composure and calm’. “General nervousness, indigestion, constipation, coated tongue, anxiety” were linked with toxemia and its associated unpoised state of mind.9 He explained further, “All attention to food and fasting will fail in those of unpoised minds, in those who are irritable and apprehensive. Many people have no self-control and are food drunkards; they are childish enough to resent restrictions.”8
As long ago as 1920, Lust wrote familiar sounding admonitions: “In this age of rush people eat too much and eat it too rapidly.”10 Added to the urgency and excess of such a lifestyle were concerns then and now that continuously ignoring the body’s signals to evacuate could lead to constipation and subsequent health issues. Macfadden counseled his patients in 1932, “answer all calls to stool, even the slightest; never postpone or neglect a call.”11 Nevertheless, poor waste elimination sometimes prompted other remedial interventions such as enemas and colonics.
Dr. Kellogg insisted that 3 stools a day were essential so that “the terrible effects which arise from intestinal toxemia or auto-intoxication are not seen.”12 In his book, Itinerary of a Breakfast, he outlines the rhythmic activity of the digestive tract and in great detail gives an account of the 10 gates that food passes as it traverses the alimentary tract. The ileocecal valve was the 7th gate with its chief function as “a check valve; that is, a gate opening in but one direction.”13 Kellogg gives 2 reasons for the ileocecal valve’s duties. “First, to maintain a definite and steady forward movement of the intestinal contents; and second, to prevent the return into the small intestine of waste and excretory matters after they have been rejected by the small intestine and pushed into the colon to be cast out of the body as refuse. The importance of this wise provision of nature grows out of the fact that the waste matters passed into the colon very readily take on putrefactive processes and thus become highly offensive and poisonous.”14 Should the fecal contents reverse their movement and return to the small intestine, then the small intestine rapidly absorbs this ‘poisonous matter’ and becomes infected by the virulent bacteria. The most common symptoms that arise when contents of the large intestines empty back into the small intestines are “attacks of headache, asthmatic attacks, bilious attacks, a coated tongue, bad breath and chronic diseases of the blood vessels, heart, kidneys and other vital organs.”15
Mixed Views of Enemas and Colonics
Lindlahr’s views of colonics were mixed, but by and large, he opposed them. “Such enforced, artificial purging may flush the drains and sewers, but does not cleanse the chambers of the house. The cells in the interior tissues remain encumbered with morbid matter.”16 Another prominent doctor of the period, J.C. Thompson, went on to explain, “when the intestines are constantly flooded with water injected through the rectum, the stimulus to secretion is lacking and the cellular linings and glandular structures of the intestines become less active. Any function of the organism which we do not use, atrophies.”17
Some viewed colonics as a palliation with no basis or understanding of cause or cure. Tilden reminds us of our principles by pointing out that colonics removed the symptom of constipation, but did not address the causes. “A treatment directed to one of many symptoms is a very primitive method of attempting to cure disease.”18 He elaborates further on palliation saying,“A logical treatment for overcoming constipation is a treatment directed to the removal of all symptoms. Singling out any one or two or more symptoms and treating them is symptom treatment, and in truth is palliation.”18
In short, it was his clinical judgment that “the enema is abused by being used too frequently and builds the symptom it is supposed to relieve.”19 Although Tilden used enemas for dire cases of constipation, he firmly believed that “enemas and [drugs] further enervate and cause [constipation].” He went on to explain, “A cure can be brought about by rest in bed; poise of mind and body; and total abstinence from food until secretions and excretions are established and this resumption will be announced by a moistening of the tongue and mucous membranes, cleaning of the tongue and moving of bowels.”20
Eat Three Meals a Day and No More
Within this abundant literature, a persistent observation was that the leading cause of constipation was the eating of devitalized foods such as cooked starches which favored fermentation and intestinal putrefaction. “The more the patient is starch poisoned, the more [s/he] will be troubled with gas distention,”21 Tilden explained. Devitalized food caused the body to become enervated, leading to acidosis. Tilden felt that if uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables were eaten, fermentation and decomposition would be avoided.22
Some of these early naturopathic doctors, such as Tilden and Macfadden, championed fasting, while others encouraged their patients to eat. Dr. Lust, for example, makes the following diet recommendations to treat constipation which begins in the morning: “After rising, a glass of fresh water should be drunk slowly. For breakfast, a grapefruit or two oranges. One or two soft-boiled eggs, some well-cooked cereal and well-buttered whole wheat bread. Malt coffee or when advisable some milk.”23
Abstaining from certain beverages such as alcohol, coffee, tea and cocoa was advocated by most of our early 20th century colleagues. In 1915 Shatz urged, “do not drink during your meal, none within half an hour before or an hour after the meal.”24 Lust advised, “with meals, no fluids should be taken; if there is thirst a little wine or water will do. Between meals, water or buttermilk in small doses will help digestion and move the bowels.”25 Tilden recommends eating “three meals a day and no more; no eating nor drinking between meals.”26
Meanwhile, Macfadden “heartily condemn[ed] drug laxatives … but in the case of stubborn constipation” at the beginning of the “radical treatment – the fast – may benefit an effective dose of some saline laxative.” The saline laxatives draw fluid into the intestinal tract from the blood and adjacent tissues, and as Macfadden explains, “this increased fluid in the intestinal tract and the increased peristalsis thereby produced hastens the expulsion of the solid content.”27
A Cold Priessnitz Abdominal Pack
Lust also included Kneipp wet packs in the tool kit of the naturopathic doctor to augment the digestive process. This approach advocates the use of water and vinegar [and the application] applied every 2 days in the morning or in the evening according to the disposition of the patient.”25 Lust’s suggestions were consistent with his abiding faith in water cure and nature cure approaches.
“Wet linen, wrung out well, must cover the whole abdomen. This linen which must reach around the whole body must be covered with a woolen cloth to produce the heat necessary to create that beneficial effect which will cure. The packings will stop the pressure in the abdomen, remove the gas, and help the stool.”28
He rarely missed an opportunity to advocate the age-old techniques of his own mentors. “A cold Priessnitz abdominal pack or bandage applied in the evening and kept on during the night” along with walking, climbing, physical exercise and massage were imperative in curing constipation.29
Abbott, writing at about the same time, noted, “in atonic constipation the cold rubbing sitz is an excellent measure. It should last from two to four minutes and be followed by the alternate douche to the spine and abdomen.”30
Weighing in as part of this accumulating literature, Summers in 1920 reminded naturopathic doctors of the value of exercise and work to keep the bowels regular. “Elimination depends upon activity,” he wrote.31 Shatz had already taught his contemporaries that hard physical work, and walking, swimming and friction after water applications were important aspects of a regimen promoting regular and healthy elimination.32 However, the voice that surpasses all others in regards to the benefits of exercise came from the “father of Physical Culture”, Bernarr Macfadden. The muscles of the intestinal tract depended upon “a system of exercise … for the correction of intestinal stasis” he insisted, as well as the action of the diaphragm upon the intestines.33 Macfadden advocated walking and running because of its “vibrating effect upon the entire body and stimulation of the circulation and the [metabolism].” Macfadden advised that, if possible, one should devote at least an hour a day to exercise and to walk at least 8 to 10 miles a day.34
Clearly, our naturopathic elders studied, treated, advocated and wrote about healthy elimination as a cornerstone of wellness. Tilden stated often, “Toxemia is … based on the fundamental laws of nature, and it is the only truth concerning the cause and cure of disease and certainly offers the only rational method of disease prevention.”35
Sussanna Czeranko, ND, BBE is a faculty member working as the rare books curator at National College of Natural Medicine. She is currently compiling several books based on the journals published by Benedict Lust. In addition to her work in balneotherapy, she is the founder of The Buteyko Academy, a training program for NDs to incorporate a scientific model of breathing therapy called Buteyko into their repertoire.
1. Montague JF. How to Conquer Constipation. Garden City, NY: Garden City Books; 1938:25.
2. Barker JE. Chronic Constipation, the Most Insidious and the Most Deadly of Diseases, Its Cause, Grave Consequences and Natural Cure. London, England: John Murray Publishing; 1927:13.
3. Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:56.
4. Clements GR. Deadly constipation. The Naturopath. 1923;28(12):767.
5. Lust L. Regulating the bowels. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1903;4(11):338.
6. Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:47.
7. Tilden JH. Toxemia Explained. 8th ed. Denver, CO: The World Press, Inc.; 1946:96.
8. Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:99.
9. Tilden JH. Toxemia Explained. 8th ed. Denver, CO: The World Press, Inc.; 1946:85.
10. The Ether Wave. Chewing. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1920;25(8):397.
11. Macfadden B. Digestive Troubles: How Caused and Cured. New York: NY: Macfadden Publications, Inc.; 1928:265.
12. Kellogg JH. Itinerary of a Breakfast, Funk & Wagnalls Company; 1918:23.
13. Kellogg JH. Itinerary of a Breakfast, Funk & Wagnalls Company; 1918:62.
14. Kellogg JH. Itinerary of a Breakfast, Funk & Wagnalls Company; 1918:62-63.
15.Kellogg JH. Itinerary of a Breakfast, Funk & Wagnalls Company; 1918:64.
16. Lindlahr H. Nature Cure, Philosophy and Practice Based on the Unity of Disease and Cure. Chicago, IL: The Nature Cure Publishing Co.; 1924:220.
17. Thomson JC. Constipation and Our Civilization. London, England: Thorsons Publishers Ltd.; 1954:181-182.
18.Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:115.
19.Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:87.
20.Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:92.
21. Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:101.
22. Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:98.
23. Lust B. The causes and treatment of chronic constipation. The Naturopath. 1910;15(6):323.
24. Schatz S. Constipation. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1915;20(5):306.
25. Lust B. Nervous dyspepsia. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1920;25(8):394.
26.Tilden JH. Toxemia Explained. 8th ed. Denver, CO: The World Press, Inc.; 1946:125.
27.Macfadden B. Constipation, Its Cause, Effect and Treatment, Macfadden Publications, Inc.; 1924:152.
28.Lust B. Nervous dyspepsia. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1920;25(8):394-395.
29. Lust B. The causes and treatment of chronic constipation. The Naturopath. 1910;15(6):324.
30. Abbott GK. Principles and Practice of Hydrotherapy for Students and Practitioners of Medicine. Loma Linda, CA: The College Press; 1914:298.
31. Summers LA. Man’s greatest asset. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1920;396.
32. Schatz S. Constipation. Herald of Health and Naturopath. 1915;20(5):305.
33. Macfadden B. Constipation, Its Cause, Effect and Treatment, Macfadden Publications, Inc.; 1924:186-187.
34. Macfadden B. Constipation, Its Cause, Effect and Treatment, Macfadden Publications, Inc.; 1924:187-188.
35. Tilden JH. Constipation: A New Reading on the Subject. Denver, CO: Tilden Health School Association Publishing; 1923:35-36.