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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let's Talk About Popcorn, Coca-Cola and Bezoars

I love popcorn...a lot. To me, you just can't go to into a movie theater and sit down to enjoy a great movie without popcorn. If I don't have enough money for popcorn, then I don't go to the movies. It's just that critical. I think it might be because that's the first thing you smell when you enter the lobby of a movie theater -hot, buttery popcorn.

Even just sitting at home watching a movie inspires the idea of putting in a bag of microwave popcorn (with movie theater butter of course) to enjoy along with the movie. If there are several nights in a row of watching movies, then that might mean eating popcorn several nights in a row.

Here's where the problem comes in. I recently had a bought of intestinal distress -severe cramps, fever, and a couple of other symptoms that I will spare you the description of. In my case, it turned out to be a simple stomach flu. But, when something like this happens, I always take to the internet to research possible causes. I came across a discussion thread about popcorn and one participant presented the comment that his uncle suffered from a Bezoar in his intestinal tract from eating too much popcorn. He had to have surgery to have it removed. Could this be true? And what the heck is a Bezoar?

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health's website (nlm.nih.gov), a Bezoar (pronounced BEE-zor) is a lump or mass of undigested particles that lodges in the stomach, appendix, intestines or colon and refuses to pass. It can cause pain, fever, nausea, diarrhea, bleeding and further infection. These sometimes have to be surgically removed. Bezoars can consist of many different things. For example, some items that typically have trouble digesting and can form Bezoars are fruit or vegetable fibers, pith or pits, hair, seeds, bubble gum, soil or fine gravel, dehydrated milk solids, any small item that a child might swallow and yes...popcorn fibers.

Apparently, it's the tiny clear, yellowish seed coat called hulls that cover the kernel that are the most likely to form into Bezoars. There are pre-packaged varieties without this shell fiber that are typically sold in most grocery stores. Riehle's Select makes five varieties of gourmet, GMO free, hulless popcorn. Their website explains that this variety is actually a very tiny kernel that when popped, the hulls almost completely disintegrate, making it much easier to digest. Another good one is Tender Pop, also GMO-free and gourmet.

If unripe persimmons are a huge part of your diet, then you might have to worry about getting a Phytobezoar. This is a type of Bezoar that is formed from a chemical in the fruit called shibuol that binds with the acid in your stomach to form a hardened mass that cannot be digested. Phytobezoars are especially hard and difficult to dissolve or pass, more so than other Bezoars. But guess what? The high acid content in Coca-Cola has been successfully used to treat these Bezoars according to a study published at the Science Direct website in July, 2006. This study was performed by the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Hanyang University Guri Hospital in Guri, South Korea. 

During this experiment, doctors treated a 41-year-old man with a history of diabetes mellitus. He was admitted with lower abdominal pain and vomiting. The hospital performed an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and it revealed three huge, round diospyrobezoars in his stomach. He was made to drink two cans of Coca-Cola every six hours. When they did another endoscopy the next day, the bezoars were partially dissolved and were significantly softened. At this, doctors performed a direct endoscopic injection of Coca-Cola into each bezoar. When they repeated another endoscopy the next day, the bezoars were completely dissolved.

As exciting as this discovery is, it's also pretty scary. It's no secret that Coca-Cola can clean the corrosion off a battery post. Matthew Wright, co-owner of Wright Brother's Automotive in Atlanta validates that Coca-Cola does work to clean battery posts, although he's not necessarily recommending it.  Listverse.com also lists ten very unusual and rather scary uses for Coca-Cola including cleaning toilets, rust removal, de-blackening pots and pan, skunk smell removal and pain relief from stings. Most everyone knows that the original recipe for Coca-Cola contained cocaine from the coca leaf. However, some people may not realize that the present recipe still contains coca leaf extract that has been treated with a solvent and an acid base chemical process to remove the cocaine.

The present recipe also contains high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which has been linked with diabetes and liver disease. If you live in Argentina, as of June, 2013, you can drink Coca-Cola Life. This variety of Coke is sweetened with real sugar and Stevia and has 60% fewer calories than Coca-Cola Classic without the use of high fructose corn syrup. Why isn't this available in the US? I don't know. Maybe it's coming. In the meantime, regular Coke has HFCS and the phosphoric acid that gives these drinks their tangy or sour taste has also been linked with Osteoporosis according to WebMD.com. Bone density requires a critical balance of phosphorus and calcium, but the phosphoric acid in Coca-Cola apparently messes with this critical balance causing bone loss.

Based on this information, it's doesn't take a Ph.D. to deduce that drinking Coca-Cola in large amounts over time isn't the best idea for good health. However, in this case, moderation might be the key. If you plan to occasionally go to a movie and you want to eat popcorn, but you're worried about the hulls causing a Bezoar, drinking a Coke along with the popcorn might just dissolve the hulls, preventing a Bezoar. Obviously, this isn't something you'd want to make a regular practice of, but occasionally might not hurt and actually help prevent Bezoars.

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