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Most Embarrassing Products: FiberCon


A drug store purchase that's anything but regular.

Although conveniently overlooked by Benjamin Franklin in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, defecation, along with death and taxes, is one of those pesky yet certain facts of life. As unavoidable and universal as the bodily function may be, it has so offended our genteel sensibilities that we have been reduced to either cloaking the act in layers of euphemism or avoiding the subject altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, the shock and awe lot have turned the unmentionable excretory exploit into a nonstop source of low brow comedy fodder.

In the late '70s, a Japanese writer named Taro Gomi helped tear down societal scatological taboos with a children's picture book called Everyone Poops. Despite its odd cover choice depicting a boy's face clenched in discomfort, the book took a simple, lighthearted approach to the four-letter word by representing it across various species. "An elephant makes a big poop, a mouse makes a tiny poop," and so on. The book demystified the subject for kids while helping to quell the shame felt by their parents.

But what happens when the elephant can't make its big elephant poop? What does the elephant do in the event that it's been backed up and bloated for three days after an ill-chosen fettuccini alfredo binge? And what if, when he does finally go, he has to painfully strain only to get out a hard, dry, small stool that "sounds like a bombardier," (or a series of "plops," according to Dr. Oz) rather than a nice, healthy "swoosh"? Shouldn't that require a follow-up book, Everyone Can't Always Poop?

Perhaps taking a close second to the embarrassment in our culture associated with making a bowel movement is that of being unable to. While we may shudder to think about our gastrointestinal system when it's humming along in tip-top shape, a malfunction requiring an outside remedy is nothing short of public humiliation. Fortunately, that hasn't stopped Americans from spending $725 million on laxative treatments each year, be them the intestinally challenged themselves or pranksters lacing an unsuspecting victim's coffee with Ex-Lax by Noven Pharmaceuticals (NOVN) as a 1980s teen comedy homage.

Sure, constipation sufferers have been the 'butt' of many a blue joke, which makes marketing for products like FiberCon by Pfizer (PFE) a serious challenge. While Pfizer's sales strategy is proprietary, the message behind FiberCon appears to be education. The website invites users to determine if their daily fiber intake is sufficient via a Fiber Meter and includes a mini library of fiber topics that addresses questions like "What is fiber therapy?," "What is constipation?," and "What are the symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?" It also compares FiberCon to other bulk laxative powders like Metamucil Sunrise Smooth by Procter & Gamble (PG), Citrucel Regular. from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Benefiber Powder and provides a food chart that lists the most fiber-rich grains and cereals, beans, and fruits and vegetables.

While not exactly serving as a proxy for a Taro Gomi constipation book, the FiberCon website provides data that makes regularity, well...regular. "Everyone" may not have IBS but, as the website claims, the intestinal disorder affects about 20% of Americans and is "the second-leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace." Also helping to normalize the condition is a not-too-attractive, 30-something barefooted woman who could be your friend or neighbor sitting cross-legged in a yoga-esque pose.

She'll make it easier for us to make eye contact with the clerk in the checkout line the next time FiberCon is in our drugstore basket.

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