Friday, September 26, 2008

It's their HEADS that are full of spackle...

I drove up from Scottsdale to my old family place in Flagstaff yesterday. On car trips where I'm driving, I usually listen either to CD's or the radio—thanks to my husband, I have Sirius radio, and thus can choose from the BBC (love the accents, as well as the different world views you get), any kind of music one can think of, or the Usual Suspects in terms of domestic news. Given the hair-raising state of current affairs, I was mostly listening to the domestic channels. Which have advertising.

Now, I don't really mind hearing guff about credit-counseling agencies, truck-driving companies, or male-enhancement products (the best was one I heard last week, while driving with my husband: a "lotion-based" enhancement "guaranteed to increase your size as soon as you rub it in!" My husband nearly died laughing). I do, however, draw the line at the ads for colon cleansers.

I don't know if they're all the same company under different product names, but they all have the same script. Their product, they assure you, will rid you of, "the ten to twenty-five pounds of UNDIGESTED WASTE that some experts say is stuck to the walls of your colon, like spackle or paste!"

This isn't the first time I've heard this quaint theory; I once visited a massage therapist who earnestly showed me a "scientific booklet" showing cross-sectional illustrations of the large intestine, looking like a kitchen drain clogged by ever-increasing grease deposits.

Now, look…

Were y'all not paying attention in Junior High biology, when the gross anatomy and general function of the large intestine were explained? Evidently a lot of people weren't.

For starters, stand in front of a mirror and open your mouth. You are looking at one end of your digestive system. Do you see food sticking to the back of your throat? I sincerely hope not. OK, do you know why food is not sticking to the back of your throat?

Because it is slippery! Yes, very good. And why is it slippery? Because the back of your throat (and the inside of your nose, just for good measure) is lined with a mucous membrane. That means the tissue there is equipped with a large number of cells that produce….yes, indeedy, mucus! Mucus is exceedingly slippery. Slimy, even. Stuff does not stick to it.

All right. Stop-press news here: your whole, entire intestinal system is lined by this same mucous membrane. If food isn't sticking at the top of your alimentary canal, it isn't sticking at the bottom, either. No spackle.

No twenty-five pounds of undigested food, either. Now, even if you take my word for it that "undigested waste" (which is a contradiction in terms; if it hasn't been digested, it isn't waste; it's just chewed-up food. Believe me, you would notice if you were excreting undigested food) is not sticking to the walls of your large intestine, it might be argued that if your colon were especially sluggish, glop might be lollygagging around in there, making you weigh more.

It might be argued, but that isn't true, either, and it's pretty dang easy to prove it. You know the colonoscopy that you're supposed to get when you turn 50, and every so often thereafter? Well, before a doctor goes sticking an endoscope up your rear end, he or she would like to make sure of having an unobstructed view. To this end, the preparation for a colonoscopy involves drinking a solution of a liquid containing magnesium, which is a powerful laxative. You can buy this stuff in any drug store; it's called Fleet, and it's utterly revolting. But effective. It will remove everything in your colon within a few hours. And if you—out of a spirit of scientific inquiry—should happen to weigh yourself before and after this process, you will note that you do not—alas—lose ten to twenty-five pounds. You might—temporarily—lose one. If you drink enough water to kill the taste, you'll probably—temporarily—gain weight.

If you have any doubts, ask the medical personnel who do your colonoscopy if they noticed any spackle-like deposits clinging to the walls of your colon. If they did, I bet they'd mention it.

I haven't looked at the ingredient list of any of these products—I've never even seen one in the flesh—but I'd bet money that magnesium is one of, if not the, main ingredient. Taking two 500 mg magnesium tablets (which will cost you about 6 cents) will do anything one of these colon-cleansers does, I assure you. (I take magnesium tablets for occasional migraines—along with three aspirin and a nice glass of white wine, plus a schmear of Tiger Balm on temples and under nose. Treatment for migraines is highly idiosyncratic; I don't recommend this for anybody else, but it usually works for me. But that's how I know about the other effects of magnesium tablets.)

Putting aside the question of their supposed physiological basis, which is utter nonsense, do these colon-cleansers actually work, in terms of weight loss?

Well, yeah, they probably do—if used as directed. My chiropractor (hey, writing for a living is physically destructive; I have major arthritis in my neck, and my spine looks like I'm playing Twister, even while sitting down) once tried one of these "cleanser" regimes, and was so enthused, he was recommending it to all his clients.

"Yeah?" I said. "What do you do?"
"Oh," he said, "it's easy! Three days a week, you just drink the cleanser crystals, in juice or water or whatever. I've lost ten pounds in a month!"
"Great!" I said. "And you eat normally while you do this?"
"Oh, no," he said. "You don't eat on the days you take the cleanser."


"Jeffrey," I said, when he had stopped twisting my head, "you are losing weight because you've cut your caloric intake in half. You'd get the same effect if you just didn't eat solid food every other day."

He didn't believe me, of course. But I hope you will. Drink water, eat less (but whatever you do eat should have fiber), and save your money, is my advice. And listen to the BBC. It's soothing to realize that the world is bigger than Wall Street and Washington.


  1. What did Barnum write? There's a sucker born every minute? And these 'experts' know exactly how to coerce them into wasting their money on this stuff...

    Oh, and by the way, I thought your hubby laughing at that particular commercial was a stitch! Hello! Physics and response! :lol:

  2. I think I've learned more from you (history, writing, colon care) than any other person I've never met face to face. (g)

    That last sentence made my day.

    Thank you.

  3. I moved to the U.S. last year, and one of my favorite activities since then has been mocking the commercials. They just seem a lot more stupid than I've seen anywhere else... as evidenced by this post.

    Thanks for the laughs!

  4. I enjoy visiting Reuters World news page to get wordly opinions on the U.S. They certainly don't take us as seriously as we take ourselves!! When visiting the Scotland page, there use to be a wonderful "picture of the day" album where people from all over the world posted their pictures of Scotland but I haven't been able to find it lately.

  5. Loved that entry :) I've wondered about that stuff too, and you make some good arguments there. I've actually forwarded it to my sister who is obsessed with the colon-cleanse-stuff.


  6. 1. Snot is good.

    2. Clearing the intestinal tract clears the good (and bad) bacteria in it. So clearing is not necessarily A GOOD THING.

    3. Re: William's adventure in the Great Dismal Swamp.... Alders aren't native in the east except for Seaside Alder, and I'm betting it occurs next to the ocean. (A Guide to Field Identification Trees of North America) I think willows put out suckers that William could pull up, but not sure. He definitely shouldn't plant it over a septic tank.

    Pretty please keep the teasers coming.

  7. As a nurse, I also have listened to these commercials and shaken my head! I have looked at the ingredients on copy cat products at the store and most of it is the same stuff that is in Metamucil-which is a stool softener and made to bulk up your "waste". Taking a lot of laxatives would do the same-clean out your system, give you cramps & diarrhea (probably) and you'd lose weight-for the day, until you start eating again and back it would come!

  8. Yup, between this and the Butt Cooties, I'm good to go. {g}

  9. Most evenings I drink a warm drink of lemon-flavored Cal-Mac (simply calcium and magnesium) for relaxation too, and it takes care of any "problems" I might have in that area... magnesium is a wonderful drug. Thanks for the explanation for why! I was reading in ABOSAA about the pleasant fragrance of myrtle, and looked into my essential oil book and found out that not only does it have a very pleasant fragrance, it is great for colds and other upper respiratory problems too, so I ordered a bottle of that for cold season!
    --Debbie in San Diego

  10. Well, I wasn't expecting that... funny and informative rant though. Can't believe people are buying that stuff. Hey, I have some Tennessee beach property for sale? Anyone interested? :P

  11. A few years ago my brother-in-law's inlaws decided to close off half of the barber shop/beauty salon they were running and turn the other half into an herbal shop. His mother in law became a ~Certified Colonic Specialist~ (and she cut hair too!) and they added a Colonic Room to their small town herbal store. OK...I _had_ to see it for myself. There was an impressive chair that looked like a big dentist's chair, but with an opening at the, um, seated part of it. And they used a large clear plastic tube so that customers could ~see~ the "impurities" that were being cleansed from their systems. (Oh, how nice.) At the time the big rage was the ~Coffee Cleansings" (because they wouldn't dare use the term _enema_). My brother in law was parroting the same story on Diana's blog about the ick that remains in the colon for _years_ due to the "Horrible American Diet." (rolling eyes) It was $55 a pop for an herbal-caffeine "cleansing session." My response, "No thanks, I eat my wheat flakes, and coffee works just fine applied at the _other_ end." (g)


  12. Thanks, Diana! How refreshing to read a rant on colonics! I wish people would just think about things a little before rushing off and buying the latest "in" thing. They would certainly save a ton of money. Have you heard the commercial for a breast enhancement cream? It's been around for at least 5 years and yet plastic surgeons seem to be doing brisk business regardless.

  13. De-lurking to shake my head at how many people apparently slept through freshman high school biology. Between colon cleansing & butt-cooties, the gullibles out there have probably developed split personalities trying to decide whether or not it's in their best interest to have a bowel movement. It truly astounds me just how many people decide to check basic scientific knowledge at the door when faced with low-grade mass hysteria induced by urban legends and their ilk. Of course, this leads one to assume that these people are the same ones who decided long ago that science is the root of all evil and that everyone from their neighbor to the government is "out to get them". To borrow a line from the TV show "King of the Hill" - "That's what they want you to believe."

    Needless to say, my two girls will receive a firm education in science, logic, and skepticism.

  14. As a nurse and consumer, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I watch those infomercials with amazement that people are making money on this load of crap, no pun intended! You said it better than anyone could.

  15. What a fun read! I love that I'll never know what will show up here. And you made me stop and think.

  16. As usual Diana you gave me the laugh of the day.
    I just had a colonoscopy last month. I didn't lose a single pound and the doctor didn't find any spackle.
    We could pay off the national debt with the money people spent on enhancing their body parts. We are forever looking for the "fountain of youth". Isn't it the American way...bigger and better.

  17. Dear Tess--

    Eww, how revolting. [giggling nonetheless] Now, owing to the absorptive nature of the large intestine (you know this already, but for those who _did_ sleep through Jr. High biology--the large intestine's chief role in digestion is to resorb water from the liquified waste passing through), it actually _will_ absorb some substances--and caffeine probably is one of them. So it's possible that the recipients of the coffee enema did experience a "boost"--but as you say, there are easier ways to do that. [g]

    Interesting historical note: A few years ago, I saw a TV special on the death of Marilyn Monroe, analyzing her autopsy results--which showed a high concentration of phenobarbitol, all the large intestine. But not higher up the digestive tract, which is Very Odd.

    The show's hypothesis was that either Bobby Kennedy (who apparently visited her that day, with a companion) or the Kennedy family goons, had given the poor woman a phenobarbitol enema, thus causing her overdose. Which was an interesting idea, if not conclusive.

  18. gatorperson--

    Thanks! "Alder" was just a place-holder for posting the excerpt; the actual manuscript has "[ ]" there [g], since verifying the vegetation for an area is one of the late things I do in a manuscript--I do a search for all the empty square brackets, and look up what needs to be in them. Some of 'em don't get filled until the copy-edit. I'll make a note to check "willow," though I have some reservations about using willow for a frog-spear; if I'm not mistaken, one of willow's chief characteristics is that it's very flexible--hence its use in basket-making. Still...a sapling large enough to make a speak might have enough backbone (so to speak [g]) to be effective.

  19. Dear Katrina--

    I am constantly astonished at how many people have never got past the Victorian (and that's not hyperbole; it really is a Victorian attitude) notion that imputes not only speciousness but morality (or lack of it) to the name of science.

    You know--the idea that "science" is just another crackpot idea, and no more valid than the current "-ism" of the day.

    How did these people avoid being taught what the scientific method _is_, in school? If they'd ever learned it, they'd know precisely what it is and what its value is--and they wouldn't be rushing around wild-eyed, trying to prevent "science" from "being crammed down own children's throats!"

    Simple idiocy. [shaking head]

  20. I just heard that commercial in the car yesterday. Glad to hear my initial gut reaction (pun intended) was right.

  21. I am sorry, I cannot use the colon cleansing... I think I took care of my problems with the Kinoki foot pads. (Very Big Grin!) Another rip-off product!!!

    We have to re-teach/re-introduce the scientific method in our Intro. to Horticulture class too.... college students. We have many students who are Liberal Arts majors and haven't had a science class so long that they have forgotten most everything basic.

    I am sure a lot of hubbies would like that rub on lotion! : ) That is if their wives were doing the rubbing on part.


  22. Diana, You are supposed to be working on ECHO, the graphic novel, and your other works, surely you don't need to concern yourself with colon cleansers!! Can't you tell I'm counting the days till your next book comes out?

  23. Dear Chrissy--

    Well, as I may have noted elsewhere from time to time--I work on ECHO pretty much all the time. The fact that I occasionally put down words about some other topic is no more relevant to this process than the fact that I occasionally stop to eat lunch.

  24. We all hope that when you stop to eat lunch, it's a fiber-filled one [evil, evil grin].

  25. Dear Karen--

    Turkey with walnuts. And bleu-cheese dressing. [g]

  26. Diana,
    You are making me hungry!!!!

    And... Chrissy, she did say that she was listening to this on the radio while driving. ; ) Who knows, this may someday revisit us in one of the books (grin!)

    Diana... something funny.... This weekend was our big Feast of the Hunter's Moon... 'hometown' re-enactment festival. After Saturday closed I had to take DS#2 to Wal-Mart to buy bigger shoes (hard to afford period correct shoes for those whose feet are still growing). I was still wearing my 18C clothing and he was still in his, which included a kilt. The cashier looked at me and said 'You must be with the Feast!' I said yes, but thought after I left I should have said, "No, we are time travelers!" That would have gotten a look! : )

  27. Dear Diana,

    You stop for lunch??? Holy Cow, next thing you'll be saying you stop to sleep. (Hrmph!) [g]

    I have a pretty darn good memory, and some time ago you said that you often write pieces of different things because it prevents writing block. Is there anything else you've written a bit of lately? I know ECHO's #1 (and am happy for that) but what else has been tapping on the back of your head these days?

  28. Hi Diana

    Hah I just read your homepage and I cant believe that anyone could harass you about being stingy with your next book. On a good note though I actually enjoyed reading about the very complicated process you go through to get a book on the shelves. This in turn lead me to seek out your podcasts and those were fantastic as well.

    You do so much more than just write. Thank you!

  29. Dear Tess--

    Bits of nonfiction, for the most part; essays, interviews, and website entries. [g]

    ECHO's got critical mass, now--and _has_ to be the main focus of the fictional energy for the next few months.

  30. Speaking of podcasts ... I found the one on your website the other night - has anyone ever told you that you have what I would describe as a "rich" voice? Kind of like caramel, which I know is a weird description, but true nonetheless.

  31. Dear Karen--

    Well, that's a nice description. [g] The last description of my voice that I read was, "whisky running over gravel." You should hear me when I have a cold--that's all I can say!

  32. Who on earth would waste good whiskey by pouring it over gravel???!!!

  33. Diana~

    More than once I have pondered how long it takes you to write a rant of this sort and the one posted on your website about the publishing process. Are these written extemporaneously or are they thought-out, given great consideration, word choices mulled over and such? I love when you do it, just so long as they're not directed at me -- the Catholic-school-educated child in me sits up straight with hands folded in front every time!


  34. Dear merrymags--

    Oh, they're fairly _extempore_, though I do do the back-and-forth craft thing to be sure they're clear and euphonious. [g]

    And I normally sit on a rant for a day or two and re-read before sending, so as to be sure that if it offends anyone, it won't do so by accident.

  35. "......if it offends anyone, it won't do so by accident."

    Bwahaha! Ha! Ha! Ha! You are wonderful.


  36. Good heavens, no, why would you want to offend someone by accident when you could have the pleasure of doing so on purpose [hee hee]. I think if a few of us on this blog ever got together in person (with Herself, of course) we could get into LOTS of trouble [wink, wink]

  37. This is in response to Vicki's post about going to the Feast of the Hunter's Moon this past weekend. My husband and I and our daughter, who is a senior at Purdue, were there on Sun.! We've gone the past 3 years. In fact, I went there for a field trip when I was in 8th grade. I've read before that you work at Purdue in the Ag Dept.? My daughter started out pre-vet then did a 180 and is now double majoring in Comparative Literature and Medieval & Renaissance Studies.

    The battle re-enactment reminded me of Willie or really John Gray. What were you dressed up in? Does your whole family dress-up? My friend, Mary Weeks, does the side-saddle demo there.

  38. Hi Nancy!
    I was there! I was hidden at (and in charge of) the 42nd's food booth, selling Forfar Bridies, Scottish Shortbread, spiced tea and water. My son is a bagpiper in the 42nd Royal Highlanders. He wasn't there this year. He is the youngest member of the group. He is 16 and has been a piper since he was 7 (well, started on the chanter at 7... got pipes at 8). I have only missed Feast twice since I started going in 1981. I have been in charge of the booth 4 yrs. I don't get out much to see the sights. I will next year. I did see Mary, as a lady rode side-saddle past our booth. The next event I will be at is The Grand Encampment at Ft. Massac in southern Illinois. It is Oct. 18 & 19. My family does dress. My younger son is probably going to be a drummer in the group someday. I have a great family picture of us at Ft. Ticonderoga when we were there 3 yrs ago. We are all dressed in it.

    I do work at Purdue in the Horticulture department... I teach lab classes (Intro. to horticulture). I didn't like history at all in high school. The Feast and the history of this area got me excited about it. I think my kids think I am a 'history geek'! Especially now that I am writing a novel that takes place in 1775 and '76 (so far).

  39. Nancy (and others),
    If you Google 'Taylor Stirm bagpipes' and then choose the first link, you will see him at 11 y.o. playing at Ft. De Chartres. You can also google the 42nd Royal highlanders lafayette IN. They are also on Youtube. Oh... our tv station had them too.

    Sorry Diana to hijack your blog! : )

  40. Vicki, are you Piper mom? You and your family sound so extraordinary you put me to shame. But of course you inspire me at the same time. I had no idea of the caliber of people I would encounter when I discovered "Outlander". Facinating! How you all find the time to do everything you do astounds me!

  41. Yes, that's me!!! Well, I must admit, a month of stress has finally caught up with me this week... I now have a cold. Grrr! I don't know where I find the time either (grin).... Diana is like that too! I don't mean to put anybody to shame! : ) I am glad I can be an inspiration... even tho I am exhausted at the moment and pushing myself along... 47 yrs old isn't really old... but I am not 27 anymore either! : )

  42. *sigh*

    I'm a 26 year old trapped in a 50+ year old aching body...I understand!

  43. Why does that rant remind me of a 'Claire' moment? I can imagine Jamie and Ian's reaction to a Claire rant on colon cleansing. Inevitably hysterically funny.

    Your tag on this post reads 'Diana Gabaldon spackle colon cleanser'. Ahh-ha-ha. Thanks for laugh today!

    (See what you've done, Diana! ;) )

  44. I'm so glad someone else mentioned those silly foot pads that I've seen advertised. That's exactly what I was thinking about while reading this rant. *lol* People crack me up.

    Diana -

    They actually have infomercials about colon cleanse stuff as well. If you are ever up at odd hours (I can't IMAGINE that happening to you...hardy har har), you probably could witness more hilarity. It's hours of people seriously talking about poop. Granted, you can only bear to watch it for so long and then ask for those minutes of your life back. :P

  45. I'm spending a year in England with my husband at the moment, and have to concur with the 'BBC is soothing' observation. It's true! In fact, I've nearly forgotten to fret about all the financial and political upheaval back home in the U.S. with reports of all the other goings-on in the world. ...Yeah. Also, if the BBC -does- happen to mention the current political and financial climate of the United States, at least the delivery is nicely coated with pleasant accents and, as noted, a marked lack of advertisment on-air. Go BBC! & cheers, Diana, for plugging away with your next Outlander installments. *can hardly wait* :D

  46. Vicki,
    I was just wondering where you get the 18th century clothes that you dress up in? Do you make them, or buy them from somewhere? I would love to own a dress from that time. I would also REALLY like to get my husband a kilt :) Any help would be appreciated!

    PS. I am Brittany G from LOL! Nice to see you here!!

  47. Brittany (Nancy and anyone else who wants to get a hold of me),

    Send me an email....

    stirm AT purdue DOT edu

    I think you know what to do to get the addy right!

    Brittany, I will be happy to discuss the clothing thing with you!


  48. Amazing! I have seen these neo-enema infomercials in passing on my satellite TV guide, and intended to rant about it on my blog, but you have beat me to the magnesium punch, so to speak. Now I will simply refer my readers to your magnificent rant.

    While under the effects of the fantabulous drugs they gave me for touring my pink subway tunnel, I commented to the doctor that it looked as new and shiny as a baby's. He replied that it was a good thing it did, as any other condition could be indicative of very bad things. We didn't find any spackle and I didn't lose 25 pounds.

    One of the real dangers of these treatments is addiction. Yes, you can get addicted to enemas and to laxatives. They benignly refer to it as "abuse". The DEA and Drug Czar should be investigating; it might be more useful than their usual pursuits.

  49. Diana, I love your books, I love your mind and I love your turn of phrase!. I have just had the best medicine, a tummy clutching giggle at your observations on this most bizarre obsession and the lack of people using their brains to thin about whther it could possible be true.
    IN the absence of yoru new books I'll be wathing yoru blogs.

  50. Oh,thank God someone (besides me) fianlly ranted about this! Go, Diana! I get SO tired of trying to disabuse my clients of these ideas - without actually offending them. I have a friend - an RN, no less - who believes in colloidal silver to cure everything. I thought: Okay, let's find out. So I took a really nasty culture from a setter with a refractory ear infection and tested it. Colloidal silver does NOTHING. Zero, zip, nada. Lavender oil, OTOH, killed everything on there, even things that the antibiotics didn't touch - and it made the incubator smell a LOT nicer than usual. :p Hmm, so I guess that's some nice support for the herbal medicines of Outlander vintage. Some of them, anyway.

    Sigh. Could be worse, though... at least most of you don't live in a state where the Gov reputedly believes that humans an dinosaurs cohabited the earth..... (yikes).

  51. Hi Diana,

    I believe in a good, general spring clean with herbal supplements. I've lost a pound or so, but that's it. And is not the point, anyway. I feel markedly better after.

    However, I was skeeved right out by this: a colleague gave me a cassette tape and urged me to listen "for a great investment opportunity." She refused to give me more info.

    It was an hour of testimonials for a colon-cleansing regime. The testimonies went into graphic---& I mean GRAPHIC---detail about every single bit of "spackle" that emerged during the regime.

    And apparently, your best sales pitch is to relate the same sort of story to potential clients. That's some dream career.

    My problem was, I couldn't tear myself away from the tape. I am so ashamed.

    I did not invest in the program, and let my colleague know I disapproved of her recruitment tactic.


  52. I'm with Renee...this rant sounded eerily like Claire. No objections there; I'll take my Outlander fix any way it comes.

    There was a funny and fascinating expose' about this subject on Penn & Teller's Bullshit (season 5 episode 4). Gratuitous toplessness though.

  53. Oh, that was great. Thanks, I needed the laugh!


    I got this newsletter today, and the key article made me think of this discussion...

  55. New Diet Taps into Pioneering Plan to Help Dieters Lose 15 Pounds in Only 21 Days!