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March 7, 2012

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Extreme diets: Parasites to cold-water baths

AS people look forward to warmer weather, lighter clothes and job interviews, they are trying to shed pounds in a hurry, preferably without diet and exercise. But there are no magic bullets of quick fixes.

As usual, doctors warn people to be careful of medication, herbal or otherwise, that promises quick and effective weight loss. Many medications, especially those that speed up the metabolism, also have side effects, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure.

That doesn't stop Chinese women (and other women around the world) who are eating and immediately purging (this can develop into bulimia, a serious eating disorder), using laxatives to excess and fasting to the extreme. Some turn appetite suppressants.

Some women are obsessed with colon cleansing and detoxing with coffee enemas, some even eat astarid (roundworm) eggs so that mature parasitic worms will eat the food in the digestive system, thus keeping them thin. Then there are cold bath fanatics.

Here are a few hot diet topics on the Internet and in the press, as well as what doctors say. In general, they say don't do it and warn of likely health problems that can be very serious.

Cold-water baths

Urging children to run practically naked in freezing weather is the way one famous "eagle father" trained his weak son to be strong. And many people believe that bathing with cold water can help them burn fat and become strong.

It is widely believed among Chinese people that bathing or showering with cold water regardless of the weather helps people adapt to changed weather more easily and thus improves the body's immunity against "pathogenic cold," a TCM concept.

Since the humans are homeothermic, the body will burn fat to keep warm; thus, it is said, regular cold water baths will eventually assist in weight loss. Cold water also tightens the skin.

? Expert:

There are successful cases in which people who bathe in cold water all year show improved immunity against colds but it isn't good for everyone, says Dr Jiang Zaifeng of the acupuncture department of Liangcheng Community Hospital.

People with cardio-cerebral vascular problems should definitely not bathe with cold water, since blood vessels contract sharply in the cold, increasing blood pressure and risk of heart attack and stroke.

Women should generally avoid cold baths, especially during menstruation, pregnancy and lactation. Even healthy people should not shift suddenly from warm to cold water baths. Avoid cold showers after physical exercise.

Colon cleansing

Coloclysis, or irrigating the colon with an enema, is becoming a popular DIY detox to expel feces, though it is intended to help constipation patients. Doing it too often can damage tissue and kill the beneficial flora in the intestines.

Doctors say that a bowel movement every day, or two days, is sufficient for most healthy people to expel toxins. And use of laxatives and enemas is not necessary.

Many young women believe more detox will help them lose weight.

"I am not sure whether I have expelled all toxins, there's always some left in the bowel and that can damage health, according to lots of health advice online," says 29-year-old Stacy Lin, who is considering coloclysis.

Some health spas offer the service. A DIY coloclysis with home-brewed coffee is becoming popular online. One recent search of (Chinese Ebay) turned up 1,117 related products. Some retailers on the site sell as many as 170 packages per month, each containing coffee and enema equipment. One treatment usually involves 10g coffee and 300ml pure water (but the coffee should be lukewarm).

It is said that caffeine can stimulate the tomenta in the large intestine and thus help move the bowels.

? Expert:

"Coloclysis is a medical treatment for patients with severe constipation and most people don't need it at all," says Dr Tang Zhipeng, chief physician of the Spleen and Stomach Department of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese medicine. As long people have regular bowel movements, metabolism can function properly.

While constipation is bothering an increasing number of people today (largely due to lack of physical exercise and lack of fiber in the diet), coloclysis will not improve the situation.

"Frequent coloclysis will lead to flora imbalance and thus rob the body of its own ability to move bowels, and improper application may result in intestinal perforation," says Dr Tang.

Generally, eating more fiber (fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains), drinking more water and getting more physical exercise helps get the bowels moving properly. Fiber laxatives and glycerin suppositories can relieve occasional constipation.

Eating parasite eggs

The most shocking and dangerous approach is ingesting ascarid (roundworm) eggs that mature, move through the body and settle in the digestive system where they are supposed to "eat" fat.

They are known as giant intestinal roundworms.

Without proper hygiene, the parasite lives in the digestive system of humans and it used to be common among children. It can be expelled with medication.

There are reports that some actresses and models ingest ascarid eggs, as well as young women who don't want to diet or exercise. Some ingest parasites well in advance of job interviews so they will look their best.

As reported in a local newspaper, a girl surnamed Miao took three capsules last year and felt belly pain after a few days.

She endured it for two months and she did lose around 10 kg. She finally went to a doctor and six parasites were expelled with medication.

She was pleased with the weight loss but weak from lack of nutrition.

? Expert:

"This is definitely the wrong way to lose weight and it's very risky," says Dr Tang. The parasite does consume nutrition, but it also damages the body. At first it remains in the intestines, but usually travels to other organs and causes various serious problems such as bile duct pain, or colic. Once it reaches other organs, it becomes more difficult to expel.


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