I’ve been trying a high-fiber diet for three weeks and have experienced stomach irritation, cramps, and the sudden need to use the bathroom at inconvenient moments. Can you have too much fiber? Is there proof fiber really prevents cancer? Is long-term consumption of substances the body can’t properly digest itself a health hazard? –Jennifer Nadell, Madison, Wisconsin

You can have too much of anything, fiber included, as several gravelbrains have already shown. Surgeon James McClurken reported a while back in American Health Magazine on a 50-year-old man who complained of abdominal pain and constipation. McClurken sliced him open and found “a large amount of bran-like material with a dry, thick, toothpaste-like consistency” in the lower small intestine. Seems the guy had eaten two large bowls of bran with minimal milk the day before. His intestines absorbed what liquid there was and his guts basically turned to concrete. After the blockage was removed the patient was put on a liquid diet for a few days and was soon OK.

Intestinal blockage is rare, but too much fiber and not enough liquid can cause abdominal distension, cramps, and flatulence. There was fear at one time that a very high fiber diet (50 to 60 grams per day, twice what many dietitians recommend and four times what the average American gets) could prevent the body from absorbing certain minerals, but this has since been discounted. On the other hand, the link between low fiber and colon cancer is firmly established. Fiber is also thought to be useful in treating and preventing heart disease, diabetes, and various gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation. The lesson? Eat fiber in moderation, wash it down with lots of liquids, and in general don’t be an idiot–useful advice in any context.


Re the four or five English words ending in -dous [November 9], did you forget “jeopardous”?–M.H. Carter, Jacksonville, Florida

Son of a gun, so I did. The last cited use of jeopardous (meaning dangerous) in the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1661, a mere 330 years ago. How quickly we forget.

You slam me for giving the participle of “queue” as “queueing” (five consecutive vowels) rather than your preferred “queuing” (four vowels) without bothering to research alternate spellings [November 9]? It took me four minutes to go to the Oxford English Dictionary to find both spellings. Then there’s the question of usage. A sampling of the literature in this field shows over half spell it “queueing.” A retraction is in order regarding my spelling’s oral habits. –Doug S., Dallas

Such ingratitude. First the Teeming Millions dump on me for trying to clear up the issue of when the decades start and now they give me grief for selflessly endeavoring to suppress anomalous verb formations. See if I ever try to do anything for Western civilization again. Fortunately, there are still some who understand. See below.

Your response to Doug S. regarding words with the most consecutive vowels was “the cat’s miaou”! Compounding the problem of consecutive vowels in English words is the compounding of words, especially when using the alternative spelling of the prefix. If compounding is allowed, then archaeoaerie has five consecutive vowels nested in a word which means the prehistoric nest of a bird of prey. One might get drunk on consecutive vowels while trying archaeooenology, the study of prehistoric wine. Would something prehistoric that is unequally elastic in different directions be termed archaeoaeolotropic, thereby stretching English to its six-consecutive-vowel limit? –Paul Kosir, Madison, Wisconsin

PS: Hyphenating these words would dash my hopes of creating record words.

I like your spunk, Paul, but watch the puns or I’ll have you disemvowel–um, hurt bad. One recalls the convicted English teacher who got into a fight in the prison yard. He took a shiv in the gut and had to finish his sentence with a semicolon. Keep it up and I’ll have you writhing in agony too.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.