In the continuing efforts to discover the cause of my ongoing digestive troubles, today I am testing my “transit time”. No, it’s not how long I spend on a bus (which, as I loathe public transport with an unrivalled passion, would not be very long) it is how long my bowel takes to process food. You see, if your bowel takes too long to process food, it may be that you have a redundant loop and that can cause constipation, pain and potentially other symptoms too while all that toxic waste that should be ejected is still lurking about your body.
What Is A Redundant Loop?
It’s pretty much as it sounds! It’s an extra length of bowel which usually forms a loop, that serves no purpose. It’s a genetic inheritance so if you have it, you’ll be born with it. Sometimes, redundant all that extra colon can get twisted up, causing all sorts of blockage problems and abdominal pains, just like when you twist a garden hose and the water stops flowing.
A redundant loop is also sometimes referred to as “megacolon”, which to me sounds like a really anatomically correct Transformer. Awesome!
Why Is That a Problem?
The digestive system is ideally a pretty efficient operation. Products come in (food) and are unpacked (digested by the stomach) and sent through to the factory (the bowel) where the energy, water and useful parts are extracted and the waste is shipped out quickly, before it starts to become unhygienic.
If your waste removal guys aren’t working very hard though, you can be in trouble. You see, the engineers who extract the energy, water and nutrients are hard workers, and they keep ploughing away regardless of what else is going on. Even if the waste removal team has gone on a prolonged cigarette break, the engineers keep working. Now, there’s only so much energy and nutrition they can extract, but the real problem is the water. If your bowel is too long, as it is in those of us with a redundant loop, your bowel “engineers” will just keep taking water out of your faeces until it is finally shifted through. This means you can end up with rather nasty constipation.
What’s the Test?
The initial test is a really easy test you can do at home, in fact I’m doing it right now! You simply eat some corn (whole kernels, not popcorn or corn syrup!) and monitor your stools until it passes through. It’s important not to take any digestive aids like, for example, betaine hydrochloride, when you’re doing this test as the corn may be so worn down by them that you won’t see them on the way out. Corn is one of those foods that never really breaks down and those bright yellow globes of fibre should be easily recognisable undigested in a stool. Most normal humans will pass food matter completely through their system within 24 hours so if yours comes out after that, it requires further investigation.
If you’re lucky and you digest food easily, you might not be able to perform the “at home” test, as your corn would be well processed by the time it comes out. You’ll need your doctor about a digestive marker test.
The next step is an abdominal X-ray for which you swallow barium will show whether or not your colon is “mega” or twisted. Quite a few people have this problem discovered while they’re actually X-raying for other things!
How Do You Fix It?
Well, there are two options here. Have surgery or don’t! For some people, a redundant colon won’t cause problems and for others it can be managed with supplements and diet but for the unlucky few, surgery is required to correct the problem. I am not a doctor and can’t tell you what to do if you have this, but it is a serious concern and you should get yourself to a competent gastroenterologist to have it investigated.