By Dr. Royal Lee
Summary: The word hydrophilic means water loving, and in this 1958 article, Dr. Royal Lee discusses the digestive benefits of substances known as hydrophilic colloids, which are found in foods such as apples and okra but also in nonnutritive materials such as clay. In the gastrointestinal tract, these compounds draw up liquid, creating bulk that initiates peristalsis and fosters bowel regularity. At the same time, they also soak up irritants, making hydrophilic colloids uniquely effective against both diarrhea and constipation. The modern use of nonnutritive hydrophilic colloids such as kaolin and bentonite to ameliorate digestive woes affirms the wisdom of ancestral cultures that used similar clays to combat dysentery and food infections, says Dr. Lee, a claim he supports with the following remarkable quote by Dr. Weston A. Price, from Price’s classic 1939 text on traditional human diets and health, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: “Among the groups (natives) in the Andes, Central Africa, and Australia…each knapsack contained a ball of clay, a little of which was dissolved in water. Into this they dipped their morsel of food while eating. Their explanation was to prevent ‘sick stomach’.” While modern science has elucidated much when it comes to food and health, it is important to remember that eons of human trial and error have much to teach us about nutrition as well. From Let’s Live magazine, 1958.[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]
Protective Colloids Found in Ancient Remedies
The “scraped-apple” diet used by German peasants in the treatment of infantile diarrhea and constipation is an interesting example of the use of gelatin-like, moisture-absorbing substances called “hydrophilic colloids” in human nutrition. These hydrophilic colloids are just now becoming known to investigators of science, but they have long been known to the homemaker for another reason: they are the substance that gives jelly its quivery firmness, or “set.” They are “pectin.”
Idea Not New
Perhaps it was experience with hydrophilic colloids that gave birth to the old Devonshire rhyme, “Eat an apple before going to bed, and you’ll make the doctor beg his bread.” It is not a new idea that pectin will help control both diarrhea and constipation. Folklore taught that to cure constipation, scrapings from the bottom of the apple were given, and for diarrhea, the top of the apple was taken. This was in accordance with the folklore law of likes and opposites. Science today knows it does not make any difference which end of the fruit is used as long as enough pectin is taken.
One reason why pectin is beneficial in the treatment of constipation is its great water-absorbing ability, whereby it furnishes the necessary bulk to start peristalsis. Properties of pectin are such that intestinal irritation resulting from many different sources is eliminated. This alone becomes important in reestablishment of “regular habits.”
Clay and Water
Dr. Weston A. Price, world traveler and author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration—written as a result of his worldwide studies—has the following to say:
“One of the sources I have found helpful in studying primitive races is an investigation of knapsacks. Among the groups (natives) in the Andes, Central Africa, and Australia…each knapsack contained a ball of clay, a little of which was dissolved in water. Into this they dipped their morsel of food while eating. Their explanation was to prevent ‘sick stomach.’”
This is the way the natives in these countries combat dysentery and food infections. An illustration of the way in which modern science is slowly adopting practices that have long been in use among primitive races is to be found in the recent extensive use that is made of clay (kaolin) in our modern medicine.
The clay-eaters distinguish between good and bad qualities of these hydrophilic colloidal clays. Such action would appear rather remarkable in view of the comparatively recent adoption of kaolin into the British and American Pharmacopoeia as protective agents for the intestinal mucosa.
Studies of Comfrey
The okra and comfrey plants are other examples of hydrophilic colloids. Comfrey is of particular interest. The word “comfrey” is attributed to the old French word “to preserve.” Dr. Charles J. MacAllister, of Dublin, tells of his experiences with comfrey (1914–1935) in an interesting book, The Narratives of an Investigation Concerning an Ancient Medicinal Remedy and Its Modern Utilities. A curious suggestion arises from reports that when maggots of certain flies are placed on a wound, the healing of the wound is promoted. It is said that the substance called “allantoin,” given off by the maggots, is responsible for at least part of the healing powers. This is the same substance that Dr. Macallister states is responsible for the reputation of comfrey.
Early discoveries in nutrition were concerned only with missing elements caused by “indiscretions in the diet,” but today we must consider the factors that come within the realm of enzymes, hydrophilic colloids, and other activators. Substances such as pectin, comfrey, and mineral-earths, formerly regarded as virtually inert biologically, now are being considered in terms of nutrient value—not because they contribute calories or weight, but because they possess activities that heretofore have been unsuspected or ignored in spite of practical evidence to the contrary.
Must Study Foods
The organic farmer does not pretend to know how to explain the ramifications and hairsplitting scientific concepts necessary to the establishment of incontrovertible proof of the need for organic foods. The burden of proof is on those who claim that they can supersede the plan of the Creator or beat Mother Nature at her own game in the business of organizing inert matter into living tissue. We, the human race, were fed on organic foods for eons before we became chemically half-smart enough to find out exactly why counterfeit [processed] foods cannot support life if we use too much of such imitation foods [and don’t compensate for] their shortcomings. We must develop more than a “speaking acquaintance” with this matter of “respectful observation” of the wonders of nature.
By Dr. Royal Lee. Let’s Live, 1958.