Ads for colon cleansing seem to be popping up everywhere, so you may be wondering if a colon cleanse is a safe thing to try. The ads promise all sorts of wonderful results, but can they be believed? The following overview of colon cleansing products and services is offered to help you to make an informed decision as to whether colon cleansing is right for you.
Types of Colon Cleansers
There are two basic ways to "clean out" your colon:Colon Cleansing Products
These products include detoxifying teas or supplements in capsule form. Often these products come with a recommendation that you engage in fasting or follow a special, restricted diet. Ingredients may include:
- Fiber, in the form of psyllium or flaxseed
- Herbal laxatives, such as cascara, senna and aloe leaves
- Other herbs, such as peppermint, ginger, cayenne and fennel
- Bentonite Clay
- Citric Acid
This type of colon cleanse involves a procedure conducted by a colon hydrotherapist. During colon hydrotherapy, a tube is inserted into your rectum as you lay flat on a table. Water is then pumped into your colon, flushing out its contents. Additives such as vitamins, probiotics, enzymes, herbs or coffee may be added to the water. The procedure typically lasts from 45 minutes to one hour.
First, it should be made clear that colon cleansing is not part of Western medicine/gastroenterology. Advocates of colon cleansing, however, maintain that over time the colon becomes lined with aged fecal matter which contains toxins and prevents the large intestine from functioning properly. Colon cleansing is thought to clear out this unhealthy stool along with bacteria and parasites. Proponents list a myriad of health benefits of cleansing and see it as a remedy for a wide variety of chronic health conditions:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- gas and bloating
- skin problems
Since fecal matter is something that most people consider to be disgusting, it is easy to buy into the theory that dried up stool is building up in our intestines and that this is the cause of whatever might be ailing us. However, gastroenterologists - who spend considerable time observing normal and diseased colons - do not routinely observe such aged fecal matter in their uncleansed patients' colons.
There are three major limitations to the colon cleansing theory:
There is no scientific evidence: There is no evidence that the lining of our intestines become caked with leftover fecal matter. Nor are there any well-run studies that support the claims that colon cleansing enhances health or is effective as a treatment for ongoing health problems.
Cleaning out bacteria may be harmful: Bacteria in our large intestines are essential for digestive and overall health. Cleansing out this bacteria may upset the body's own finely-tuned bacterial balance.
Safety issues: Colon cleansing is not without risk. Certain forms of stimulant laxatives found in teas and supplements have been associated with serious short-term and long-term health problems. Risks of colon hydrotherapy include perforation of the bowel and potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances.
My Bottom Line
My gut reaction (pun intended) to the matter of colon cleansing is that you should save your money. Without solid evidence of benefits, it just doesn't make sense to mess with your colon. On the other hand, the proponents of colon cleansing are a very vocal group. If you do decide to try a colon cleanse, it is essential that you first get clearance from your doctor to make sure that there is nothing in your health history that would put you at a higher risk for undertaking this endeavor.
Kurtzweil, P. "Dieter's Brews Make Tea Time A Dangerous Affair" FDA Consumer 1997.
Puetz, T. "Is There a Health Benefit from High Colonics?" International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Fact Sheet 2008.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.