Of the Raj constipated
A school Yahoo group forum has a campfire atmosphere about it where 25 year olds eagerly lap up 80 year olds' reminisces of good old days. When one posts a message saying that he is 64 and wants to know if bowel movement deteriorates with age, it is bound to invite bawdy suggestions. Non-doctors like me came up with suggestions like positioning oneself in scary situations so that the bowels move like greased lightning. On our forum, the jokes would have carried on endlessly until a doctor, Richard Haythornwaite, stepped in and set the ball rolling in the right direction.
Dr Richard Haythornwaite posted the following:
"A few thoughts for you and the group. It was 1948 and just two months into my first term at Jesus College, Cambridge, when our tutor popped a question to the five of us in his tutorial. 'Now, tell me doctors, what was the most important single factor for the health of the nation at the beginning of the last war?' Well, we faffed around and in the end the answer came, 'Raising the amount of the grain used to make bread flour from 70 per cent of the grain to 85 per cent.' It contained extra protein, minerals, vitamins and roughage. The next question, 'and who do you think made the most complaint?' Again, we faffed about but the answer when it came was something that has stuck with me all these years, 'The laxative manufacturers!' They knew full well that with the extra roughage in the diet their profits would go down the drain! So there you basically have it, that what we eat must have a good proportion of roughage in it. Interesting sideline: People whose staple diet is rice have less bowel problems, especially if it is brown rice because the fibre is spread throughout the grain. When Japanese British POWs were given the husk of the rice for their gardens, they ate it for its mineral, vitamins and nutritional content.
"It was not until many years later when I joined the McCarrison Society that I appreciated the full import of the tutor's story. I learnt how in 1880 the English flour mills converted to steel roller mills which enabled them to produce a very fine white flour consisting purely of the endosperm of the grain, sans pericarp, (roughage), vitamins and minerals. The by-product, bran, became a new product sold as a health food, 'Bemax' and others. The introduction of this very white flour and its very white bread was eagerly taken to by the masses of the country, as it was only the well-to-do had white bread heretofore, it being very expensive to sieve out through a fine muslin, the rougher parts of the grain, found in stone ground flour made in water or windmills. I learnt also how in the early 1900s, some twenty years after the introduction of this special white flour, there was this interesting new illness, coronary thrombosis, along with constipation, gastric ulcers, diverticulitis, varicose veins, gall-bladder problems and general ill-health, particularly among the poorer portions of society relying on that staple of food, bread, "The Staff of Life" as it was known.
"They were unaware as was the rest of the population, doctors included, how battered that staff had become. The one section of the community who knew something has changed was the grannies of English society who could not understand why they were now constipated. So worried were they that colonic washout clubs were formed to deal with the problem. Note the time lag before the health changes presented themselves.
"Despite the recognition how beneficial the National Loaf had been, the Government succumbed to pressure from the various food manufacturers to go back to the pre-WW-II flour, because it has better keeping qualities and gives a better looking product. A government Commission deciding that provided some chalk, iron and some vitamins were added, it would be as good for health as whole grain flour. What an error!
"Sir Robert McCarrison was posted to Gilgit, Paskistan, in the 1900s, and he appreciated the health and stamina of the Hunzakuts. He did a big study on all Indian diets and felt the Northern whole grain diets were the best, his work being brought together in a publication by Faber and Faber Ltd. published first in 1953.
"It was Denis Burkett working in Africa (circa 1940) who realised that the local population had far less bowel cancer than their European counterparts. He realised this was due to a slow bowel transit time, whereas the Africans on their native time had a transit time of about 36 - 48 hours whereas those on a European diet might have one as long a week. This allows for poisons and toxins to be produced by unhealthy anaerobic bowel bacteria that come to predominate in these conditions. The stagnant bowel contents causing illnesses from acute appendicitis to bowel cancer especially of the large intestine and rectum. Hence the problems caused by the roughage free white bread consumed by most of the western population who have this as a staple food, the toxic gut contents resting against the bowel wall induces cancerous change. Looking up his life on Google is very rewarding.
"Regards to all, Richard."
I googled for gur, molasses, McCarrison, and Denis Burkett and I stumbled on the following nuggets: Ancient medical scriptures dating back to the period 2,500 years ago state how jaggery (panela) purifies the blood, prevents rheumatic afflictions and disorders of bile and possesses nutritive properties of a high order.
Mahatma Gandhi in 1935 exhorted everyone to put gur in their milk and not refined sugar. Gur has a mild laxative effect. It has calcium, phosphorous, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, absorbic acid and a host of other nutrients.
The manufacture of sugar from sugarcane juice involves a cocktail of chemicals. Sulphur dioxide, lime, phosphoric acid, formic acid, bleaching agents and viscosity reducers are just some of these. Can't our R&D come up with a benign process that is gentle with sugarcane juice?
Cannot an improvement be made in the way our rice mills de-husk rice grain, by not polishing off the nutrients?
More about CN Anand
Major C N Anand (retd) is a graduate of IIT Madras, who joined the Bombay Sappers, Indian Army, in 1973 and retired prematurely in 1993. He has authored the novel, Tarbela Damned – Pakistan Tamed. He is fascinated by Pakistan, a near bankrupt state, which negotiates with a gun to its head and has got two superpowers, the USA and China tied up in knots. Pakistan continually flummoxes India with impunity.