Elvis Presley had a long, well-documented history of chronic constipation. His personal physician, Dr. George Nicholpoulos, found the 42-year old singer dead on the toilet in 1977. Autopsy reports show the King’s colon at the time of his death was twice the diameter and twice the length of a healthy colon.
Much of this has been blamed on Elvis’ deep-fried, Southern-comfort diet and well-known penchant for opiates. Lots of fatty and highly processed foods mixed with motility-slowing drugs will surely affect a body’s ability to purge, but what if there were other factors as well?
“All the medications he was taking wouldn’t have caused the degree of constipation he had,” claims Dr. Nick, who noted that at the autopsy pathologists found barium in Presley’s stool that had been there for three or four months.
“The nerves have to stimulate the colon to propel the material out,” the Dr. notes. “Either there were no nerves or there was a viral disease that affects the nerves. I’m just using this as an example, but polio, for instance, is a virus that affects the nerves.”
Of course, I have my own theory on the matter. Did you expect anything less?
As much as Dr. Nick is being accused of presenting this theory now as a way to exonerate his role in Elvis’ death as his drug prescriber, I do think he’s spot-on about the nerves of the colon and that they were obviously not functioning in normal peristalsis, the muscular contractions that propel waste matter through the colon and out of the body through the anus.
In a healthy colon, the sensations of peristalsis signal that it is time to get thee to a toilet. In a chronically stopped-up colon, peristalsis slows or ceases completely, and the colon becomes so stretched and distorted that the sensation that you “have to go” is muted or nonexistant.
Many readers of this blog have commented that fiber and water can help clear occasional constipation, and they are correct when you are looking at a normal colon in a healthy person. Adding fiber to a diet can actually make constipation worse if there is an underlying inflammatory condition that is not being addressed.
In untreated Celiac disease sufferers, for example, the continual and chronic irritation of the lining of the bowels and intestines can cause permanent damage to the nerves and tissues of the gastro-intestinal system, including the sensitive fingerlike villi lining the gut that are responsible for breaking down and absorbing nutrients and assisting peristalsis.
Scientific American magazine reported in the August, 2009, issue that Celiac sufferers and in fact most, if not all, autoimmune disease sufferers, have unusually permeable guts due to constant inflammatory response to environmental substances, i.e., undiagnosed food and chemical sensitivities. Because this inflammation negatively affects the assimilation of nutrients, symptoms can manifest that are as diverse as anemia, arthritis, bone loss, depression, fatigue, infertility, joint pain, seizures, and numbness in the hands and feet. Etcetera, etcetera.
As Celiac patients know, the only way to heal the bowel and feel better is to eliminate the cause of the inflammation and irritation, in this case gluten in the diet, and allow the tissues to calm down and recover. If identified early enough, the bowel can completely heal and regain normal function. After too many years of continual inflammation, however, the damage may become permanent.
While only 1% of the global population actually suffers from gluten intolerance, the numbers unknowingly afflicted with gluten or other food or chemical additive sensitivities could be exponentially higher. These “Type IV delayed hypersensitivity reactions” spark a histamine/cytokine/chemokine mediator release that can manifest as inflammation localized in the bowels and producing constipation and/or diarreah or as a general system-wide inflammation that can look like anything from migraines to fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ADD/ADHD… and on and on.
Perhaps Elvis suffered from undiagnosed food sensitivities that instigated a constant inflammatory response in his colon, effectively closing it to excretions and causing the stool to back-up and expand the colon exponentially in diameter to contain all that rotting fecal matter, and hence lose muscle tone and sensitivity in the villi.
In my experience, once you cross that tolerance threshold for one substance, the thresholds for others drop lower as well, causing a cascade of substances which you can no longer tolerate and so that you become constantly inflamed internally. Returning to a point below these lowered tolerance thresholds takes information, time, and dedication, but it is possible.
What can we learn from these revelations into The King’s toileting life?
First, it’s probably wise to lay off the opiates, especially if you’re already constipated. They’re not going to help.
Second, a deep fried diet laden with processed foods and famous for peanut-butter-banana-and-bacon sandwiches is not conducive to robust health.
And, third, don’t wait until it’s too late to act to save your colon — and your body — from permanent damage like the kind seen in Elvis. Dr. Nick offered Elvis a colonectomy while he was alive in a desperate attempt to find a solution to his chronic problem. Elvis demurred (it would have meant wearing an external colon bag). It’s infinitely more preferable to change your diet than lose your colon, don’t you think?
If you are suffering without finding relief, you might want to consider looking into possible food and/or chemical additive sensitivity issues (not food “allergies” that create IgE antibodies, but “sensitivities” that cause the release of mediators like histamines and cytokines and cause inflammation).
We can’t all be “The King,” but at least we can rule over our own bodies and take control over our own health!