Sunday, June 8, 2014

Senior Alert: The Metamucil Threat

It's not as far-reaching or sinister a crisis as say, the Benghazi cover-up, but folks over sixty-five, particularly those with not much else to do, might consider our latest domestic conundrum: Can Metamucil or its chief ingredient, an herb named Plantago Psyllium, harm your dishwasher?

This crisis started a couple of months ago when we visited our in-laws, who spend winters in Mt. Dora, a town north of Orlando. Mt. Dora is a postcard-worthy winter resort with old houses and huge moss-covered trees. Despite its name, and like all of Florida, there's nothing near Mt. Dora that resembles a true mount or even a bump on the landscape. The town, however, sits on a beautiful lake with a year-round colony of alligators that occasionally come ashore for a nibble. Mt. Dora's wintertime demographics resemble those of Fox News: overwhelmingly white with a median age somewhere between late-60s and the Pearly Gates. The week we were there the town rollicked with a 1920s Flappers-theme party in the main square.

We also noticed that before every breakfast Stew's brother Greg whipped up an elixir consisting of a beige powder called Psyllium and some unknown but undoubtedly good-for-you solvent, like almond milk or pomegranate juice. Both Greg and his wife are very health-conscious. He said that regular doses of this drink promote equally regular bowel movements.

Though it is not cocktail party, or even breakfast table, conversation I'm sure that millions of AARPers have discreetly broached this subject with their pharmacists and very close friends.

A potential demon in your dishwasher. 
When you get old, health worries proliferate and in a retirement haven like Mt. Dora or San Miguel, so does discussion of miracle potions and analgesics. In the States, the natural-remedies aisles at Walgreens creep along nightly and must be over a block long by now. Quackery of all types thrives in San Miguel too.

But Stew and I figured Psyllium was worth a try. Even if it wasn't the key to eternal life, the possibility of regular bowel movements during the time we have left on this planet was something worth investigating.

We found Psyllium at the local pharmacy, alongside Metamucil which happens to be the same stuff  but with some artificial flavorings and at four times the price.

First time you try Psyllium, a heaping tablespoon to a glass of water, the need for added flavoring is gaggingly obvious. It's gritty, worse than tasteless and practically insoluble. You stir it vigorously and chug it quickly before the powder turns into a gelatinous sediment.

The only way to take Psyllium—the good researchers at Metamucil figured this out decades ago—is to soften the impact with some fruit flavoring, though practically any flavored liquid will do. Lukewarm pea soup or spaghetti sauce probably will work as long as you slurp it quickly, before the Psyllium particles regroup at the bottom of the bowl.

We put the Psyllium-tainted glasses in the dishwasher and that may have been the start of our problem. After four or five days of this healthy-sounding regimen we noticed that our Bosch dishwasher was ailing. It had gone from whisper-quiet to possibly dead. Stew stopped the machine in mid-cycle and took apart the filter and food grinder mechanism to discover it was covered with a milky-white goo, like some alien excreta you'd see in an old science fiction movie, which had also clogged the holes in the sprayer arms. He cleaned everything out but the problem reoccurred a week later.

With no other explanation available Stew immediately blamed the liquid Costco-brand dishwasher detergent which had an appearance and consistency suspiciously similar to the goo in the dishwasher. An e-mail to the customer service address of Costco in the U.S. was in order.

The most amazing customer-service response ensued. Costco headquarters, wherever it is, wrote to the manager of our Costco store in Mexico and asked him to call us. The Mexican manager spoke nervously with Stew and assured he'd give us our money back and to call before visiting the store to make sure he was there. I think this poor guy was afraid he might be blamed for whatever was going on. Costco headquarters forwarded our e-mail to a purchasing agent in San Diego who asked for the lot numbers on the jugs of detergent. Yet another person emailed us to say they are tracking down the source of the detergent to determine if there's a problem and that we would be advised of the results of the investigation. A round of applause for Costco.

Except that by now I'm feeling a bit dishonest: I didn't mention to Costco the possibility that Psyllium may be to blame or at least a complicating factor.  I was afraid such a bizarre hypothesis would cause our complaint to be tossed on grounds of customer dementia.

On the one hand the Psyllium is supposed to, er, lighten up your intestines not coagulate their contents into a whitish, Martian-looking goo. Yet that is exactly what happens when you mix Psyllium in a glass: It expands just before you close your eyes and drink it. It reminded us of those water-sucking crystals that are supposed to keep your houseplants watered while you're on vacation except Psyllium tastes far worse.

But then it could be the interaction of Psyllium and the detergent, or a Psyllium reaction to hot water sloshing around in the dishwasher. Or the mix of anti-spotting liquid with Psyllium. Or any combination of these. Maybe climate change.

As Fox News analysts would aver about Benghazi, there are questions here that need to be answered.

A few days ago we stopped using the detergent as we await the results of Costco's investigation, and began washing the Psyllium contamination off our glasses by hand. We didn't want to have to call a Mexican dishwasher repairman and try to explain our machine may clogged with Metamucil.

"Meta-what?" he might ask.

"Er, it's a remedy that old people take for constipation that, you see, got in the dishwasher and might have formed a glob at the bottom," I'd try to explain.

At that point the repairman would cuss me out in Spanish for wasting his time and hang up.

This morning Stew and I decided on a yet more radical, all-natural solution: Stop taking the stuff since there was nothing wrong with our digestive functions in the first place.

I'm not going to say anything to Costco though. I want to hear what they come up with.

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2 comments:

  1. People complaining about things like that to Costco or any company with good customer service, guarantee job security to those customer service people. Good work guys!
    My daughter has had similar, amazingly incredible customer service from Apple computer! Let us know what develops......about Costco, not your regularity!

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  2. I use a similar product from Trader Joe's called "Secrets of the Psyllium." And there's virtually no flavor. If you let it sit with the water for about five minutes or so, then stir it, it goes down without a problem.

    But I have discovered that this stuff tends to survive a trip through the dishwasher. So I've taken to soaking the offending glasses and washing off the psyllium before I put it in the dishwasher. You'd probably do well to do the same.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we used "Secrets of the Psyllium" much more on our travels due to the heavy incidence of meat and cheese in the Mexican diet.

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