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[whitespace] Loree Taylor
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Flushed With Success: Colon hydrotherapist Loree Taylor Jordan left a 15-year practice to write a book on healthy, happy colons.

Going Concerns

Ever-increasing stress is taking its toll where we least want to talk about it--constipation, diarrhea and all kinds of crappy problems

By Kelly Luker

MY FRIEND HAS UNWITTINGLY painted a stark visual of her husband for me. Although she was talking about her spouse's health problems, the conversation left a mental Polaroid that now pops up as often as his name does.

She describes a black cord that snakes down the hall of their comfortable home in San Jose and disappears under the bathroom door. On the other end is a laptop, perched on her husband's lap. For hours. Every morning.

My friend's husband--let's call him Tony--has ferocious bouts of diarrhea. It may be funny to you, but Tony isn't laughing. Incalcitrant bowels have dictated where this highly sought-after code warrior works, how he socializes and when he commutes. In short, his end justifies his means.

Not that Tony is alone in the taboo world of toilet troubles. Diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and "rectal urgency" (yup, just what it sounds like) are on the rise. Health experts call it Irritable Bowel Syndrome, spastic colitis or mucus colitis. No matter its nomenclature, the problem seems to be percolating in regions where high stress, sedentary jobs and lousy diet are considered a way of life.

Throne Drone

'IT'S MY GESTALT THAT WE'RE seeing more and more IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)," says Timothy Steck, M.D., a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara. "And, in younger and younger patients."

Steck explains that although IBS is not well understood, its symptoms show up in anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the population. Severity may range from mild to disabling.

On top of that, it ain't cheap. According to statistics collected by gastroenterologist Willliam B. Salt II, M.D., in his book Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the Mind-Body, Brain-Gut Connection, about $8 billion is spent yearly caring for IBS patients, and it is the second leading cause of workplace absenteeism in the United States. Ex-Lax and its stool-softening cousins set consumers back around $350 million a year.

For those like Tony, whose lives have been impacted by abdominal distress, the first step will be a doctor's visit to rule out more serious problems such as ulcers, colitis or Crohn's disease [see sidebar]. Unfortunately, that first step is rarely the last. And it may take years, if ever, to find help.

"The symptoms began in the mid-'80s," Tony says from his cell phone in Santa Cruz. He is visiting the Beach Boardwalk with out-of-town relatives today, where he was planning to sit in the car in order to talk where it's quieter.

"But here I am," he sighs, "looking for the men's room. Just in case."

It began with occasional bouts of diarrhea after eating. Tony figured it was the Chinese food, or MSG. But three or four years ago it started to become a daily experience.

"There's very little warning and it's extremely urgent. It's amazing when you're out in public and this happens--it so disrupts your mind you can't think of anything else.

"The average morning was two and a half hours on the toilet. Down the drain. It's affected my choice of jobs--I couldn't afford another two hours of commuting on top of that. Headhunters would call and if the job offer wasn't in the 408 area code, I couldn't consider it."

Tony adds that, of course, "I couldn't tell them why."


Gut Reaction: When your bowels are not your friends.

Heads Up: The truth is out there, for those who need to know.


Doctors on Doody

'MOST PEOPLE consider it a biopsychosocial disease," explains Steck. In other words, X-rays, blood tests and endoscopies reveal no evidence that anything is wrong. It is that lack of evidence that drives folks to unearth the "psycho" and "social" parts of their problems, driving them to alternative health practitioners, dieting, over-the-counter panaceas, shrinks and psychics, hoping that something or someone will staunch the flow of symptoms.

While stress and anxiety don't cause IBS, they can exacerbate the symptoms. So, too, can the classic geek lunch of Cheetos, cigarettes and Red Bull. Not to mention the added health benefits of being glued for hours on end to the computer screen.

Lumped together, stress, lousy diet and sitting like veal calves in cubicles create a lifestyle that will eventually lead to more serious problems. In the meantime, it plays havoc with bodily functions. Since it is not considered a communicable disease, IBS' increase (or decrease) is not tracked by demographics or region. It is left to doctors like Steck to offer anecdotal evidence that constipation and diarrhea seem to be bursting at the floodgates.

It's even more difficult to gather stories from the sufferers themselves. Excretory functions, except for the fascination it holds for toddlers, performance artists and earnest New Agers, is a taboo subject in polite society. While friends may share with each other intimate details about their lovers' performance in the bedroom, the bowel's performance in the bathroom rarely makes it into conversational gambit.

Fortunately, one doctor has made it his mission to get everyone talking about the unmentionable side of human nature. And giggling about it.

"I prefer to call myself a gastro-'exit'-ologist," laughs Robert Charm, M.D., a Walnut Creek-based doctor and associate professor of medicine at UC-Davis. But in the 30 years he's been looking up the backsides of patients, Charm finds nothing funny about IBS.

"IBS often precedes almost all diseases of the colon," says Charm. "It's extremely common in Silicon Valley," he continues, speaking of troubled colons. "It's because [people are] sedentary, they eat too quickly and they don't chew well."

Not that Silicon Valley is alone in its poor eating habits.

"Most Americans eat too fast and they don't eat consciously," Charm adds. "And, we don't eat the right foods."

To that end, Charm has dedicated himself to getting folks to love their lower intestines from the outside in.

"Eat, Enjoy, Educate, Exercise and Eliminate," chirps Dr. Charm, stressing his Five E's to good health. It's these witticisms and this bald-faced love of bathroom business that jettisoned the good doctor onto the national motivational speaking circuit.

"My goal is to speak to the National Association of Newspaper Editors," cracks Charm. "Cuz they're full of it."

The unusually perceptive medical professional is also writing a book titled "Charm 101: A Handy Guide to Choosing Health and Realizing Miracles."

"Most disease is related to the accumulation of toxins in our body," he opines. "Some doctors think that if you have a bowel movement every two days, that that's fine. It's not. We should be moving our bowels after every meal.

"We eat much too little fiber," Charm states, noting that a diet should contain 30 grams of fiber a day.

Charm admits he muses about far different details than the rest of us when he watches sports events on television.

"I wonder about athletes, and if they have a good poop before they play," Charm says. He is convinced that Martina Navratilova lost that important match at Wimbledon because, well, you know.

Royal Flush

CHARM IS NOT the only one with his eye on the bowels of Silicon Valley. Loree Taylor Jordan is also well acquainted with the subject. A certified colon hydrotherapist, Jordan has been in the business of flushing waste from the lower colon for the last 15 years. She recently sold her practice in order to concentrate on writing a book, which will be available September 1.

Like Charm, Jordan heeds the clarion call of her profession to revel in adolescent yuks. The title of her book?
Farfrompoopin: When Shit Doesn't Happen.

"I'm known as the Colonic Queen of Clean," says Jordan. "I take it very seriously, but I still have to have a sense of humor."

While the image of hard-driving high-tech workers may lean toward the X-Y chromosome, Jordan notes that at least 70 percent of her clients are women. In fact, three times as many women as men seek medical help for symptoms of IBS, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, a nonprofit organization based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

But Jordan reports she has devoted a whole chapter to men who brave ridicule to seek out her services, titled "Men Who Get Colonics and Women Who Love Them."

Jordan agrees with Charm about poop problems' prevalence--and why.

"Digestive disorders are on the rise," states Jordan. "We're all stressed out and there's too much going on. I do several chapters in my new book on being calm when you eat. Don't be driving, gulping down food and talking on the cell phone."

Which reminds Jordan of one of her favorite Silicon Valley stories.

"I had one guy who was on his cell phone while getting his colonic," she remembers. "He was directing his staff."

True to her holistic leanings, Jordan figures that her clients' problems are part of a bigger picture.

"Constipation can be an issue of not letting go of old stuff," the colonic queen notes. "It can be emotional, so we work with the nervous system. People can sometimes be very calm on the outside, but their insides are flaming with emotion. I try to work with someone on all levels."

Tony's not a real fan of all that woo-woo stuff. Maybe past-life regression will work for Jordan's entourage, but Tony's swearing by Lotronex, a recently approved medication that has changed his life. It has allowed him normal bowel movements, something that had become a distant memory.

"I've had to retrain myself how to excrete," Tony says. "It's been so long since I've been normal with the sphincter."

Life-altering? Yes. But IBS is not usually life-threatening. In fact, there may be another problem associated with upwardly mobile young professionals worriedly sorting through limitless health websites.

"We don't get too excited when we see [IBS] in young people," says Kaiser's Steck. "But they want a lot of testing. They have access to information, they're high-powered and they invariably fear the worst."

Tony, who has mentally catalogued all the public restrooms in Silicon Valley, disagrees. As far as he's concerned, it couldn't get much worse.

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From the August 24-30. 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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