Chemically Acting Cathartics
( Originally Published 1938 )
Of all the remedies for intestinal ailments having a chemical action, we all would perhaps recall first, that old family standby, castor oil, and we would recall it with a shudder. Children of this generation certainly don't know how fortunate they are! Castor oil is absorbed principally by the small intestines and therefore its action on the colon is only indirect. Although it is occasionally spoken of as toxic, it is still accepted by most medical authorities as an excellent remedy in acute cases of gastro intestinal disorders. Unfortunately, this age old remedy has a most serious drawback. While it first purges the intestines, it lessens intestinal activity afterwards and actually increases the sluggishness from which relief is sought. Therefore if you are suffering from chronic constipation don't dose yourself with castor oil and if some martyr complex or some other reason compels you to take it for an acute gastro intestinal condition, be sure to follow it with a remedy which will remove the abnormal sluggishness caused by the oil.
Calomel is another time-honored remedy. Formerly it was believed that it acted on the bile, increasing its flow. It has been found, however, that it has no action on the liver but merely prevents the decomposition of bile. While at one time it was prescribed for nearly every kind of disorder, today it is rapidly falling into disuse because of its serious disadvantages. It is most uncertain in its action. In some persons it is valuable for certain acute conditions, it is true, but in others even a very small dose may cause severe poisoning which is extremely difficult to remedy as there is no method of quickly freeing the system of the mercury of which the calomel is composed. Never use calomel for chronic constipation as it is too irritating and may produce mercurial poisoning. And above all remember, it is never curative in its action.
Cascara is another chemically acting cathartic and one of the most popular ones as it is the least disagreeable to take and is almost free from discomfort. It has the disadvantage, however, of acting on both the small and the large intestines. Moreover, many of the pills and tablets containing this drug contain drastic cathartics. Therefore supreme caution must be exercised in the use of such preparations.
We could go on enumerating cathartics and pointing out their advantages and disadvantages, page after page even book after book. But, while such a discourse might prove interesting to some readers, it would not prove any more valuable than the few words we have spoken for the particular purpose at hand the selection of the best way to cleanse the bowel and restore its normal, healthy tone. It is true, of course, that some are superior to others in effectiveness, after effects and other characteristics, but they are all the same in that none of them are corrective in their action, that is, their effect is only temporary, lasting only when and as long as the remedy is taken. This is serious enough, but far more serious is the fact that the vast majority of them actually aggravate constipation by lowering the muscle tone of the intestines so that eventually they cannot perform any of their functions adequately. Therefore none of them should be taken in chronic conditions nor in any acute conditions where only the thorough flushing of the intestine is indicated.
As there is evidently no remedy either among the mechanically nor the chemically acting cathartics which meets our requirements, the reader has in all probability concluded that the solution is to be found in the group embracing the various forms of intestinal irrigation. He is right. But all methods of colonic irrigation are not equally beneficial. Indeed, some are only partially effective, while others may be even dangerous in the hands of an amateur.