The publication in April 2000 of the results of a clinical trial that found high fibre cereals had no protective effect against colorectal adenomas stirred up considerable media attention and shook a cherished tenet of popular health culture.1 After all, boxes of All-Bran have been assuring us for nearly two decades that they contain “at last, some news about cancer you can live with,”2 and the manufacturers of high fibre cereals have enjoyed unprecedented profits thanks to the assumption that their products provide insurance against colon cancer. What will happen to “the high fibre feeding frenzy”3 that has possessed Americans for the past 20 years now that that assumption has been challenged?
- Throughout human history, bowel irregularity has been considered to be dangerous to health
- In the 19th century medical scientists formulated a theory of “intestinal autointoxication”—self poisoning from one's own retained wastes
- The public became prey to marketers of anticonstipation foods, drugs, and devices; All-Bran was introduced in the early 1900s to combat autointoxication
- Recent clinical evidence suggests that cereal rich in fibre does not have a protective effect against bowel cancer, but because constipation has a historic hold over the public mind, people may continue to believe that bran is protective