- Colon Cleansers: Dirty Business
- How often should you do colon cleanses or detoxes?
- Just a sec…what exactly is a colon cleanse?
- Well, is a colon cleanse good for your health?
- So, should I get a colon cleanse or nah?
- Does Colon Cleansing Do More Harm Than Good?
- Colonics Aren’t Cleansing, They’re Dangerous
- Is Colon Cleansing Necessary?
- What Is Colon Cleansing, Anyway?
- Are There Benefits to Colon Cleansing?
- What Are the Risks of Colon Cleansing?
- A Healthier Alternative to Colon Cleansing
- Do You Need a Colon Cleanse?
- Should You Believe the Claims About Detox Regimens?
- The Scientific Evidence on Colon Cleansing
- How to Improve Colon Health
- Are Colon Cleanses Useful or Unnecessary?
- Is a Colon Cleanse Ever Necessary? An Expert Weighs In
- 7 Shocking Things That Happen To The Body After A Colonic
- Colon Cleansing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
- What Is a Colon Cleanse?
- Types of Colon Cleansing
- Pros and Cons of Colon Cleansing
- Is Colon Cleansing Safe?
- Safer Alternatives to Colon Cleansing
- The Bottom Line
- Mild Side Effects
- Severe Side Effects
Colon Cleansers: Dirty Business
Colon cleansing is based on the theory that waste collects in the colon over time and stagnates there, causing toxins to form and spread throughout the body — a phenomenon known as “autointoxication.” Many 19th century doctors accepted autointoxication as fact. Although scientific research conducted as early as the 1920s failed to confirm it, the misconception persists. Other colon cleanser advocates insist that the accumulated stool blocks the colon, preventing the proper elimination of waste.
But experts say there is no such thing as autointoxication, and that the human body is actually very good at taking care of itself. Colon cleansing is really a strange fad, says Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health in New York City. âThe body can cleanse itself quite well. The kidneys and lungs remove toxins and by-products from the blood stream, and regular bowel movements remove any waste products from the gastrointestinal tract.”
David L. Diehl, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University, and chief of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Bellevue Hospital Center, agrees. “High colonics are often touted as a way to cleanse the colon of ‘adherent stool’ that has been there for years or even decades,” he says. “The problem with this concept is that there is no such thing. The body does a good job of eliminating stool, and there are no ‘pockets’ in the colon that collect stool for years. I do a colonoscopy every day of the week, and a preprocedure purge is sufficient to clean out the stool and leave a pristine looking colon.”
How often should you do colon cleanses or detoxes?
Unless you have a physician identified specific medical condition that prevents your intestines from voiding on their own or are about to go in for a colonoscopy, you never need a colon cleanse. Never.
Unless your renal or hepatic systems are somehow seriously compromised—and, believe me, you’d be in the hospital or under lots of supervised care if this were the case—or you are undergoing special procedures to remove heavy metals you may have accidentally ingested you do not need to do anything special to “detox.” Your body is already doing that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year…for your entire life.
No herb, no supplement, nor any special drink concoction is going to make it work better or faster. Drinking more water (even “special” waters) does not “flush out” toxins or pollutants faster either. The rate your liver and kidneys work in metabolizing and “filtering” wastes and toxins from your blood is more or less constant and does not change if you drink more water (or “special” detox beverage) or drink water (or “special” detox beverage) more often.
Eat good food, drink clean water, get a little exercise and let your body take care of the “detox” and “cleanse” jobs.
Think about pimple-popping videos for a minute—that satisfaction you get from taking something that is clogged and, uh, unclogging it.
Now, apply those same thoughts to your colon—you know, that tube-like organ in your body responsible for helping you get rid of waste. That “unclogged” feeling is what some people are after when they get a colon cleanse.
But just like with pimple-popping, colon cleanses, a.k.a. colonics, might not be the best move.
Just a sec…what exactly is a colon cleanse?
A colon cleanse is a way of flushing the colon and ridding it of stool, according to Rudolph Bedford, M.D., gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. The process involves ingesting a laxative (herbal or otherwise) or signing up for colon hydrotherapy where a tube gently shoots water into the rectum “to irrigate the colon.”
But before you hit up your doctor’s office, you should note that colon cleanses don’t happen there—instead, they usually occur in spaces that specialize in alternative medicine. They aren’t typically performed by medical doctors, but rather, therapists that have been certified by either the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy or the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy.
What you can get from your doctor, according to Bedford, is a colonoscopy, and while it sounds similar, it’s not the same thing. (Colonoscopies are procedures which doctors use to look inside your rectum and colon for inflammation, ulcers, polyps, and cancer.)
Well, is a colon cleanse good for your health?
While colonoscopies are necessary for your health (anyone over 50 should start screening, FYI), colon cleanses are not—and might even be harmful.
“There’s a belief that a detoxifies the colon, and essentially removes ‘harmful bacteria,’” says Bedford. They’re thought to be able to “somehow increase energy, improving circulation, clearing your skin, mental clarity, normalizing your weight,” he adds. But none of those claims are backed by science, says Bedford.
The colon is literally meant to store your waste, and it rids itself of toxins, when you, you know, poop regularly, so there’s nothing necessary about a colonic.
In addition to being totally pointless, colon cleanses might also be harmful. Taking too many laxatives over the course of a few years (if you get regular colon cleanses, for example), could “make your colon lazy,” says Bedford—possibly to the point where you may not even be able to poop without one.
As for the hydrotherapy—a.k.a., the forceful stream of water used to clean out the colon—”if water is passed through the colon too aggressively, you can potentially injure the colon,” says Bedford, adding that having someone who isn’t a medical professional pass a tube through your colon could also injure the colon’s wall.
So, should I get a colon cleanse or nah?
If you’re still thinking about getting a colon cleanse after this, definitely reconsider. Instead, if you’re feeling backed up, try an over-the-counter laxative, says Bedford—again, only as directed on the box. You can also add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet for added fiber (that stuff helps move your digestive system along the healthy, natural way).
If you’re still worried about your digestive health for whatever reason, book an appointment with your general doctor or a gastroenterologist, says Bedford. An actual medical professional will be able to offer you treatments that are safe and effective—but just stay away from those wielding pressurized butt hoses, deal?
Aryelle Siclait Assistant Editor Aryelle Siclait is an assistant editor at Women’s Health where she writes about relationship trends, sexual health, pop-culture news, food, and physical health for verticals across WomensHealthMag.com and the print magazine.
Cleaning out the colon is sometimes necessary— for example, before a medical procedure, such as a colonoscopy. But some people do it in the belief that the process will rid their colons of excess toxins that have accumulated over time from the foods they eat, the air they breathe, the water they drink and the lifestyles they lead.
Colon-cleansing enthusiasts believe that periodically cleaning from the inside out removes waste stuck to the colon walls. This waste buildup also supposedly produces toxins that enter the blood and may be slowly poisoning people, contributing to a variety of symptoms — fatigue, bloating, irritated skin and weight gain — and health problems, from depression and allergies to arthritis and cancer.
Cleansing proponents promote two ways to clean the colon. One method involves taking bowel-clearing laxatives, powders or supplements; using enemas; or drinking herbal teas topurportedly release colon waste and discharge toxins. But using this method might feel more like frequently running to the bathroom with diarrhea.
A second method is called colonic irrigation or colon hydrotherapy, in which a practitioner flushes out the colon by sending gallons of water into the body through a tube inserted into a person’s rectum. This procedure can cost about $80 to $100 per session.
But does colon cleansing flush out toxins, as its supporters suggest, or does it flush money down the drain?
Medical professionals say that the body comes well equipped with its own built-in mechanisms to eliminate harmful substances: the liver and kidneys. In fact, colon cleansing that is done to help remove toxins is an unnecessary and potentially dangerous practice, especially colon hydrotherapy.
“Every week, someone asks me whether colon cleansing is safe and whether a person should be doing it,” said Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and the author of “A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach” (Harlequin, 2011).
She typically tells her patients there is little research on colon cleansing methods, and that most physicians don’t believe in these treatments or advise their use.
Wolf said people’s curiosity about cleansing possibly stems from the idea that the bowel is a dirty place, and that getting rid of waste is a good idea. She said she usually doesn’t recommend colon hydrotherapy, but has suggested it for a few people to use as colonoscopy preparation when traditional methods have failed. She’s also recommended it for patients who had severe constipation, before there were strong drugs that could help remedy this problem.
“We don’t know enough about colon cleansing to know the real truth,” Wolf told Live Science. “It’s an area we should learn more about.”
Wolf outlined some of the potential side effects and dangers of colon cleansing methods.
1. Colon cleansing can cause side effects.
“We don’t have real data on either the healthy or unhealthy side effects from cleansing methods,” Wolf said. Most of the known side effects come from case reports described in the medical literature and not from research studies, of which there are few.
Colon cleansing with laxatives, herbal formulations or enemas might increase a person’s risk of becoming dehydrated if the individual does not drink enough fluids, Wolf said.
Inducing diarrhea can also change people’s electrolyte levels. Shifting levels of sodium might cause lightheadedness, and low potassium levels may cause leg cramps or abnormal heart rhythms, Wolf said.
Some herbal cleanses have also been linked with liver toxicity and aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder.
Case reports suggest colon hydrotherapy may cause abdominal cramping, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. More-severe complications may include perforating the bowel, serious infections, electrolyte imbalances, kidney problems and heart failure.
2. There’s little scientific evidence that colon cleansing actually removes toxins from the body or improves health.
A review study published in 2001 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that there were no rigorous studies to support the practice of colon cleansing as a way of improving or promoting general health.
And because cleansing products and methods rarely name the specific toxins they supposedly remove from the body, there’s been no research measuring how effective cleansing practices may be at actually eliminating these substances, or demonstrating the health benefits of removing them, Wolf said.
3. Cleansing is not an effective strategy for weight loss.
A person who does a cleanse may initially lose a few pounds, but that is a temporary loss, resulting from the removal of water weight and stool, and not from a permanent loss of fat. Although it could be motivating to see results on the scale for a few days, cleansing is not a long-term solution to a weight problem, Wolf said.
4. Colon cleansing and colonic irrigation are not safe for everyone.
Wolf said she would worry about people with kidney disease or heart problems trying colon cleanses, because these individuals already have trouble maintaining fluid balance in their bodies, and the electrolyte shifts could be an issue. She said she would also tell people with gastrointestinal problems, such as Crohn’s disease (a condition involving inflammation in the GI tract), ulcerative colitis (which involves inflammation in the large intestine), and recurrent diverticulitis (in which a person develops inflamed pouches in the wall of the colon) to avoid colonics.
Colon hydrotherapy is also risky for people with connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, because of the possible risk of a puncturing a hole in the bowel, as well as anyone who had prior colon surgery or severe hemorrhoids.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women should also steer clear of colon cleanses.
5. Cleansing’s effect on gut bacteria is unknown.
Trillions of bacteria live in the colon, and eliminating them or changing the population of beneficial and harmful bacteria in that organ could be a problem.
“A colon cleanse would never get rid of all the bacteria, but research is increasingly finding that a lot of bacteria in the colon is very healthy,” Wolf said. Some of the good colon bacteria play a role inkeeping bad bacteria at bay.
Scientists don’t know if colon cleanses and colon hydrotherapy disrupt the bacteria in the colon or cause an imbalance in the microbiome, Wolf said. “It hasn’t been studied,” she said.
Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.
Does Colon Cleansing Do More Harm Than Good?
Is colon cleansing dangerous? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Keck Medicine of USC, 500+ internationally renowned doctors at a leading academic medical center, on Quora:
It’s considered a natural way to detoxify the body, but does colon cleansing do more harm than good?
If you’ve had a colonoscopy, you may be familiar with the concept of colon cleansing, which involves using water to eliminate waste material and bacteria from the colon.
Also known as a colonic (or colonic irrigation), colon cleansing is recommended by some alternative medicine practitioners who say it detoxifies the body. They claim that the toxins in your gastrointestinal system may be behind a host of health problems, including asthma and arthritis. By removing those toxins with a colon cleanse, they claim you can feel more energized, lose weight and even boost your immune system.
Like other popular modes of detoxing, such as juicing, this isn’t exactly the case.
“Many people think by getting rid of fecal material, they are getting rid of toxins in the body,” said Sang W. Lee, MD, professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and chief of the division of colorectal surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. “That is not true at all.”
A colon cleanse involves flushing large amounts of water (up to 16 gallons) through the colon using a tube that’s inserted into the rectum. Sometimes, coffee or herbs are mixed into the water. In other cases, a small amount of water sits in the colon for a short time and is then removed.
Not only do medical studies not support the supposed benefits of colon cleansing, but the procedure comes with some risks. Researchers have even suggested that several deaths could be linked to coffee enemas.
Colon cleansing has the potential to cause dehydration. It also may perforate the bowels, increase your risk of infection and alter your electrolyte levels, which can be especially dangerous if you suffer from kidney or heart problems. Though other side effects — such as nausea, cramping, vomiting and bloating — are relatively less serious, they’re still no picnic.
“Initial relief may come from abdominal decompression but it is only temporary,” Dr. Lee said. “Colonics can be dangerous as well. It is often performed by non-medical personnel and can severely injure the patients.
“I have seen several serious complications related to colonics, including rectal perforation.”
Most importantly, colon cleansing isn’t necessary to detox. Your digestive system and bowels already remove toxins on their own. You also need to keep beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal system to aid in digestion.
“As we understand more about microbiome, we know there are both good and bad bacteria that reside in our digestive system,” Dr. Lee said. “Having colonics may disturb that balance and cause more issues in the long run. It certainly does not get rid of only the bad bacteria or toxins.”
If you would like to do a colon cleanse despite the risks, make sure you check with your primary care provider beforehand. Also, be aware of which herbs or other additives will be included and hydrate before and after the procedure. But keep in mind that, when all is said and done, you may be causing your body more harm than good.
This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:
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Colonics Aren’t Cleansing, They’re Dangerous
Welcome to Wellness Lies, our list of the most pervasive misfires in the effort to feel and look better. We asked the experts and consulted the best science on all the questions you have about each of these wellness fads. Read the whole list and share with your most misinformed friends and family members.
Reading a description of a colonic is enough to make most people squirm. Essentially, a tube is inserted into the rectum, and a large amount of water (up to 60 liters) is pumped in. Sometimes herbs, fiber, coffee, or other goodies are added to the mix.
“It’s like an enema on steroids,” says Ranit Mishori, a physician and professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Meanwhile, Tonic’s human guinea pig, Grant Stoddard, memorably described the procedure as one where “water is fed into your butthole through a hose to sluice out crap,” performed by “Roto-Rooters of the rectum.” I haven’t been able to look at plumbing equipment the same way since.
So why on earth would anyone want to partake of this industrial-sized rectal cocktail? The alternative names for a colonic (intestinal lavage, colonic hydrotherapy, colonic irrigation, or colon cleansing) hint at the reason: harnessing the alleged cleansing powers of water. Proponents of colonics argue that many of us are carrying around blockages of poop and other gunk in our intestines, and our bodies need some help in flushing it all out. Supposedly this can not only reduce constipation, but also lead to weight loss, more energy, relief from allergies, and clearer skin.
This belief that the colon needs to be cleansed recurs throughout history, from ancient Egyptians to early Greeks to 20th-century Americans to our current celebrity wellness-obsessed moment. These fads often center on the idea of autointoxication, or self-poisoning, from feces accumulating in the colon.
“I think it largely has to do with a generalized lack of understanding of how the gastrointestinal tract works, and how the body works to clear out toxins and process indigestible food,” says Brooks D. Cash, director of Gastroenterology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and UT Physicians in Houston, Texas.
Cash emphasizes that there’s no reliable evidence that colonics have any health benefits, either for general health or for specific conditions. “Any benefit or improvement in feeling that people get with regard to general health likely is a placebo effect,” he explains.
Sure, some people may feel lighter after a colonic, but that’s mainly down to diarrhea. Most colonics, like most detox teas, are essentially laxatives by another name. And colonic-driven diarrhea can cause serious electrolyte imbalance—in this case the loss of important minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium that are flushed out along with other bodily fluids, Mishori says.
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And the purported cleansing/detox benefits simply don’t exist. Mishori explains, “There is no such thing as ‘detoxing’ through colon cleansing. The body detoxes naturally through the kidneys and the liver. It does so 24/7 and it does not need any external help.”
There’s misinformation and misleading advertising about colonics, which may be especially appealing to people who distrust conventional medicine. And as Cash says, “When you have movie stars and public personae who are attractive and who endorse certain practices, I think that makes it attractive to laypeople as well.” (Yes, mentions the benefits of colonics.)
Not only are colonics useless, they also come with serious risks, one being the possible transmission of harmful bacteria. In 2015, doctors reported that a 78-year-old man developed E. coli septic shock following a colonic where herb-infused water was pumped into his rectum. In the late 1970s, colonic equipment heavily contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria caused an outbreak of amebiasis (an intestinal infection caused by the parasite E. histolytica) in one Colorado clinic, leading to at least six deaths.
And because they’re generally not performed by medical workers with scientifically recognized licenses, or with equipment that is FDA-approved for non-medical colonic hydrotherapy, there’s no guarantee of basic hygiene standards.
Aside from bacteria, the strong pressure of the water can also lead to colovesical fistula (an abnormal opening between the colon and the bladder) and perforation (rupture) of the rectum or bowel wall—definitely not places where you want holes. Even without perforation, colonics can lead to rectal pain and bleeding. One recent case report described a 34-year-old man who’d been experiencing such pain after his fifth colonic. The culprit was two hard plastic pieces of a catheter used to pump in water that had become lodged in his rectum.
Colonics have also been linked to abscesses, pancreatitis, and heart failure. “More commonly, we see nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and dehydration,” Mishori says. And “the risks can be much higher for those who have any medical conditions—especially heart, kidney, liver, or gastroenterological disease.”
Cash says that while the FDA has issued warning letters to some companies offering colonics, it’s got bigger fish to fry. Or to use his more colorful metaphor, when it comes to regulating the marketing of colonics, “This is a fly on an elephant’s rear end.”
For people who do have severe constipation and want relief, much gentler enemas and prescription laxatives can be helpful. And people with defecation disorders, such as difficulty coordinating the pelvic floor muscles, can turn to pelvic floor training and biofeedback therapy where patients gain greater control of the defecation process.
But the only reason to have a colon cleansing is as preparation for a medically necessary procedure, like a colonoscopy or gastrointestinal surgery, and even then doctors usually recommend laxatives and over-the-counter enema kits for this purpose.
As for the purported benefits? “If the purpose of colonics is to enhance wellness….well, we already have alternatives with extensive scientific proof—namely, regular exercise, a healthy diet, drinking in moderation, and not smoking,” Mishori points out. A fiber-rich diet, drinking plenty of water, and physical activity are all linked to healthy bowel movements. The advice may seem boring, but it’s stood the test of time (and, unlike a colonic, doesn’t come with the prospect of watching your own liquidy poop shuttling through a tube).
Ultimately, Mishori comments, “it is a pointless procedure. You will be throwing money down the toilet, almost literally.”
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Is Colon Cleansing Necessary?
If digestive health problems like constipation, diarrhea, gas, or heartburn put a damper on your day-to-day, you may have considered trying a colon cleanse. But before you sign up for one, take a look at these facts to see if the benefits really outweigh the risks.
What Is Colon Cleansing, Anyway?
The theory behind colon cleansing goes something like this: Poisonous “toxins” get into the body from the food you eat, the water you drink, and the environment you live and work in. Toxins of particular concern include lead from toys, mercury in fish, pesticides used to grow food, and bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical often used in plastics – from water bottles to food packaging. Proponents of colon cleanses believe that removing those toxins, normal bacteria, and stool from the colon can help you feel better and improve your body function.
Colon cleansing has many names, including colon therapy, colonic hydrotherapy, colonic irrigation, and high colonic. It’s similar to an enema, but much more liquid is used. As many as 20 gallons of fluids are pumped into the colon through a tube that’s inserted into the rectum. Probiotics, herbs, enzymes, and other additives can be used in the solution. Once inside the colon, the fluids – along with waste – are then released like a normal bowel movement, and then the process may be repeated. The whole procedure takes about an hour.
Colon cleansing is nothing new: Ancient civilizations are rumored to have used it, and 19th-century European spas made it a popular health remedy thousands of years later.
Are There Benefits to Colon Cleansing?
People may consider colon cleansing because they think that it reduces their risk for colon cancer. However, no studies have shown that colon cleansings have any benefit at all.
Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Health Center at Lake Charles Memorial Health System in Lake Charles, Louisiana, says there are no large, randomized trials that show any benefits of colon cleansing and few studies on the effects of colon cleansing overall.
What’s more, Dr. Marrero notes that colon cleansing isn’t the thorough purification that many people may think it is because the procedure flushes out only the colon, not the small bowel. “The only way to clean out the small bowel is eating a healthy diet of fruits and veggies,” Marrero says.
But while he’s never recommended it to any of his patients, Marrero says there has been success with some individual cases, and he doesn’t discourage the procedure if it makes a patient feel better.
What Are the Risks of Colon Cleansing?
But Marrero also says that there can be complications when pumping a large amount of water into the colon, such as worsening existing hemorrhoids or creating a puncture wound in the rectum.
This excessive amount of fluids could also potentially lead to:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Electrolyte (salt) imbalances
- Disrupting beneficial intestinal bacteria
- Fluid in the lungs
- Heart problems, including abnormal heart rhythms and death
Another big concern is that many colon cleansing practices aren’t regulated or monitored and not all practitioners are knowledgeable or well-trained, which may increase risks. Unless all equipment is clean and sterile, colonic irrigation could bring infection into the body.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, do not undergo colon cleansing if you have:
- Crohn’s disease
- Severe or internal hemorrhoids
- Ulcerative colitis
- Colon or rectal tumors
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
A Healthier Alternative to Colon Cleansing
Eating the right foods and following a healthy lifestyle can accomplish the same goal as colon cleansing. Your body is designed to get rid of substances it doesn’t need, including toxins you ingest. The liver acts as a filter for the body, handling any metals that pass through your system, such as lead and mercury, and getting them ready to be eliminated from the body, according to the Harvard Medical School. Enzymes metabolize chemicals, drugs, and other toxins as part of the process of ridding them from your system.
The kidneys are also excellent natural filters, expelling toxins such as drugs from the body. Each day, your kidneys continually filter your blood, purging toxins that are excreted through urine, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
If you want to rid your body of dietary toxins and get a clean start, it might be a better bet to just change your dietary habits. Your body will naturally work out the bad foods, especially with the help of fruits and vegetables to clean out your small bowel. Just be sure that these foods are washed well so that you don’t introduce other types of toxins — chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizer residues — into your body. Focusing on eating healthy foods poses no risks and is proven to aid digestive and overall health.
Do You Need a Colon Cleanse?
This week, I’m going to be talking about colon cleansing and detox regimens—something many of you have written to me about. Do you need to detox? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it?
Should You Believe the Claims About Detox Regimens?
If you spend any time at all online, you’ve probably seen ads for various detox and cleansing programs. If you’ve clicked on any of these ads, you may have read some really scary stuff about all the toxic sludge that’s lurking in your body and some really amazing stories about how fantastic you’ll feel when you cleanse your body of all these poisons.
But many of you are appropriately skeptical. Tiffany is wondering whether colon cleansing is healthy and Kristen wants to know how often one should do it. Melissa wonders if detoxing is really necessary. Frank is suspicious of the claims he’s seen for products in late night infomercials and James wants to know how to separate the facts from the marketing hype.
Let’s take a closer look at colon cleansing first. Next week, I’ll talk about more general detox programs.
Advocates of colon cleansing claim that, left to its own devices, the large intestine tends to fill up with sludge–sort of like a clogged drain pipe. That sludge supposedly contains toxins which poison the body. They claim that most people are carrying around several pounds of this toxic build-up, which can be eliminated with colon cleansing, bringing about a dramatic improvement in your health and well-being.
Most of the GI docs I’ve asked about this–people who spend their time looking around inside people’s colons–say that this is nonsense. The amount of material in the large intestine varies greatly from person to person and day to day. However, except in cases involving impaction or extreme constipation, nothing in your colon, including the cells lining it, has been in there for more than a few days.
Secondly, colon cleansing will not help you lose weight. Most of the calories and nutrients in the foods you eat have been digested and absorbed by the time food reaches your large intestine. The pound a day that some programs promise you’ll lose is mostly water. So, though a colon cleansing product may be very effective at flushing dollars from your wallet, it is not going to flush fat from your body. Sorry.
Thirdly, cleansing does not necessarily enhance the health of the colon. Most colon cleanse programs are basically laxatives, administered from one end or the other. Taking laxatives, especially if you’re not constipated, isn’t a great idea. They can disrupt fluid and electrolyte balance and piss off the beneficial bacteria in your intestines. Regular use of laxatives can also, ironically, make you constipated.
The Scientific Evidence on Colon Cleansing
Now, let’s take a look at the scientific evidence that colon cleansing enhances mental clarity, immune function, complexion, arthritis, allergies, and energy levels. Oh, right. There isn’t any.
So why do people report such miraculous results after cleansing their colons? It may also be partly psychological. If you’ve ever had abdominal surgery or a colonoscopy, you’ve cleansed your colon. Did it make you feel like a new person? Probably not, but then again, you probably weren’t expecting it to.
How to Improve Colon Health
If you really want to improve the health of your colon, here’s what I would recommend:
Instead of periodically taking extreme measures to “cleanse” your colon, adopt habits that promote colon health on an ongoing basis.
1. Eat more fiber and drink more water. As I explained in episode #46 on constipation, this combination helps to bulk up your stool and decrease the amount of time that waste spends in your gut.
2. Eat yogurt or other foods containing beneficial bacteria on a regular basis. In episode #4, on fermented foods, I talked about how these friendly flora help improve digestion, bolster immune function, and maintain the health of your colon.
3. Finally, if you like the idea of a cleaner colon, eat less junk. I mean, how do you think that stuff gets in there, anyway?
That’s my take on colon cleansing. Next week, I’ll talk more about programs and products that are designed to detox your liver, kidneys, and other organs.
Post your comments and questions on my Facebook page or Twitter!
Have a great day and eat something good for me!
Gastrointestinal Quackery Steve Barrett, MD for Quackwatch
How Clean Should Your Colon Be? American Council on Science and Health
Are Colon Cleanses Useful or Unnecessary?
Everyday Health: Colon cleanses are trendy as a way to jump-start weight loss or simply improve the way you feel. But are colon cleanses necessary or useful? Do you recommend colon cleanses?
Mark Babyatsky, MD (mssm.edu) Although colon cleanses have become very popular in the United States, no clear data establishes their benefit and I do not recommend them except as a bowel preparation for colonoscopy or other examination of the colon.
Christine M. Esters (adventureinwellbeing.com) Health starts in the colon. Colon cleanse and colon hydrotherapy is the first step of any health protocol. Colon cleanse is a must at any age, equal to cleansing your gutters. Gut=gutters. Yearly you need to clean your gutters from the leaf sludge, if not they leak. It is the same with your colon.
Elisa Faybush, MD (bannerhealth.com) Colon cleanses are not necessary. The colon’s function is to eliminate waste and bacteria from your body. There is no evidence to support that colon cleanses can improve overall health and cure certain ailments and cancers. Colon cleanses are necessary to prepare for certain medical procedures (colonoscopy) and often used to treat acute constipation.
Lisa Ganjhu, DO (wehealnewyork.org) When my patients ask me about colon cleanse, I tell them it is more likely to clean out your wallet then your colon. Sure, you may lose weight, but think about it: you are emptying out your colon. All that “extra weight” is stool and water! You cannot lose fat that way. If done improperly, it can be very dangerous. So I say no to the colon cleanses.
Lisa Pichney, MD (stopcoloncancernow.com) I do not feel that colon cleanses are necessary. Our colon is normally colonized with millions of bacteria and eliminating them or changing their balance can be a problem.
Andrew Sable, MD (gastrohealth.com) Cleansing the colon, or large intestine, has recently become popular again. The theory behind this practice is that toxins from your body are collected in the stools that reside in your colon and, in turn, may lead to a variety of health problems. While a colon cleanse may be an integral part of certain medical procedures, there are no prospective studies that support the benefit of it as a regular or routine practice.
When my patients ask me about a colon cleanse I start by explaining to them the physiology of digestion. The colon functions (very well I may add) to hold the byproducts of your digestion, resorb water, and then naturally eliminate waste. The human body is very efficient at this and needs no cleansing to perform. The stories you may hear of years of meat and food by — products building up in your intestine simply are not true. I’ve never specifically recommended colon cleanses routinely, but I do have patients who claim to feel better having had them. Most importantly you should be aware of the potential harmful effects of colon cleansing, such as dehydration, bowel perforation, infection, and electrolyte imbalances. For those who suffer from chronic constipation, you should drink plenty of fluids, specifically water, eat a diet rich in fiber, get daily exercise, and consult with your physician.
Sutha Sachar, MD (susacharmd.com) Though colon cleanses are not necessary, there are several patients who insist upon feeling better after using them. As a result, I only recommend them if the ingredients are safe (I encourage patients to bring them in so I can read the ingredients) and if they have had appropriate colon cancer screening. For example, I would recommend a colonoscopy first in someone who is older with constipation or bloating to make sure the symptoms are not caused by colon cancer.
Albert Snow, ND (holisticgastroenterology.com) Colon cleanses are really overrated. People are always trying to accomplish things with a colon cleanse that it just cannot do. If your colon needs to be cleansed, great — but please don’t attribute other unrelated qualities to it. If you have a gastrointestinal problem like IBS etc. they can be disastrous. One should not go fiddling around with various remedies without consulting with a holistic gastroenterologist, emphasis on “holistic.” Don’t assume that there is something wrong with your digestion that you need to do some kind of cleanse to cure. I treat many people who have chronically inflamed intestines/colons due to the improper use of colon cleansers.
AA Starpoli, MD (starpoli.com) Never. These cleanses are a manipulation of a system that has its own homeostatic control.
Jacqueline Wolf, MD (drjacquelinewolf.com) Colon cleanses can be divided into two categories: 1) the laxatives that often contain herbs that are sold to clean out the colon, and 2) colon hydrotherapy or colonics that are performed by a professional.
Colon cleanses are reputed to make people have more energy and will get rid of the bad substances in the colon, including bacteria. Exactly how they give the euphoric feeling that many people claim is unclear. I do not recommend the over — the — counter laxatives except to a person with a constipation problem. I do not think this is the right way to diet.
Although I do not generally recommend colon hydrotherapy, I do recommend it in two circumstances. In patients who are severely constipated, colon hydrotherapy has helped clear out the stool, and in some people seems to allow the person to start having bowel movements on his or her own. I also have had people use the colon hydrotherapy for a colonoscopy preparation, and it has worked very well.
Is a Colon Cleanse Ever Necessary? An Expert Weighs In
What’s the deal with colon cleanses? Do they actually do anything for your GI system?
When your colon is working properly, it moves things along just fine on its own. There’s really no need to “cleanse” or detoxify the organ.
Some people who do cleanses report feeling “lighter” afterward. But this effect is only temporary, due to the loss of water weight and stool. And there are real risks involved: Sometimes colon cleanses are so harsh they actually cause stomach issues.
RELATED: 8 Things You Need to Know About Your Colon
When your digestive system gets backed up, you’re much better off using these tried-and-true remedies for constipation:
1. Drink plenty of H2O. It flushes out your GI tract and hydrates your stools so they’re soft.
2. Load up on fiber—aim for at least 25 grams a day. Fiber passes relatively quickly through the GI tract and keeps everything else moving, too.
3. Squeeze in exercise whenever you can. Moving your body also gets your colon moving.
4. Eat probiotic-rich foods to boost the overall health of your gut.
If these measures don’t help, schedule an appointment with your doctor. She can check if an underlying condition, such as a slow thyroid, is causing your discomfort.
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7 Shocking Things That Happen To The Body After A Colonic
You may have heard about colonic cleanses, and you might be wondering what is a colonic cleanse and what happens during one? Is it super uncomfortable? Do scary, shocking things happen? While you may have been told it can be detoxifying for your system, colonic cleanses are not essential for your health. To put it simply, a colonic cleanse is when large amounts of water, or sometimes herbs or coffee, are flushed through the colon by inserting a tube into the rectum. As a result, this stimulates the bowels to help you go to the bathroom. While proponents of colonic cleanses believe it can help get rid of toxins, and even help you have more energy, there are some other things about a colonic you may want to know.
First off, there are many medical professionals who advise against colonics. Because the body has it’s own organs to flush out toxins — the kidneys and the liver — many healthcare practitioners find colonic cleanses unnecessary. Although research is still inconclusive about whether colonics can be helpful or harmful, doctors often notice patients will experience side effects like dehydration, and in some cases, colonic cleanses have led to infections, and to bowel perforations. Doctors also warn that those with kidney or heart disease are at higher risk of health issues resulting from colonics.
Some people believe that colonics can be good for you, and say that generally getting a colonic is a smooth process. “The session typically lasts around 45 minutes and is aimed at cleansing your large intestine,” Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth, of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle. “Someone might want this as a sort of detox/cleanse method. A colon hydrotherapy instrument will be inserted into your rectum and warm water will pass through your colon. When the water is transported in and out of your colon, your doctor will also employ abdominal massage techniques to eliminate wastes in your body that are sticking to the colon walls.” And just like that, the procedure will be over.
Before someone gets a colonic, they should definitely do their research ahead of time— and check with their primary care physician if a colonic is a good idea based on their health, and also make sure the practice where they make your appointment is reputable, and clean. People who get colonics also should be sure to stay hydrated before and after the treatment. Here are a few things experts say might happen during and after a colonic, if you’re curious.
1. It Actually Doesn’t Hurt
It might seem like something inserted inside someone’s rectum in order to “wash them out” may be a bit… uncomfortable. But Hollingsworth says it’s not that bad. “It … does not hurt,” says Hollingsworth. “It is a cleansing process for your colon, which causes many to think that it would hurt, but it should not.” Once again, someone who wants to get a colonic should make sure the place where they will be receiving the treatment is reputable to prevent any potential discomfort, pain, or other unwanted side effects.
2. There Might Be Cramping
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
During the procedure, someone who is receiving a colonic may be running back and forth to the bathroom, Dr. Elizabeth Trattner tells Bustle, in order to have bowel movements. And as a result, they might experience some cramping in their abdomen, which she says can be avoided by staying warm. Some hydrotherapists give clients heating pads, Trattner says, to help with cramps.
3. It’s Possible To See Waste Leaving The Body
Depending on what type of machine is being used, those receiving treatments might get to see waste leaving their body — if they choose to look. ” can actually see some undigested food pass through the tube,” says Trattner. Again, that might be more shocking to some more than others.
4. It’s Common For People To Go To The Bathroom A Lot After
Many people are surprised to learn that after receiving a treatment, people actually “go” a lot more once they get home. According to Hollingsworth, there will be an increase in bowel movements within the first few hours, but that was the intention of the treatment. Once again, those who have undergone a colonic should be sure to stay hydrated.
5. Some Notice Bowel Movements Smell Differently
Many who experience colonics say that their poop smells a bit different then what they are used to after a colonic. “The sight and smell of bowel movements might be different than usual/expected,” Hollingsworth says. This is typical of the procedure, says Hollingsworth, and happens because the colon is cleansing wastes and toxins from deep inside the intestines.
6. The Whole Cleansing Process Will Last A Few Weeks
Once someone gets a colonic, and even after they’ve had those first initial bowel movements, the process won’t be entirely over. While bowel movements will eventually go back to normal, there typically will be a few more weeks of cleansing.
As Hollingsworth says, “It will actually take weeks for the body to get rid of all the waste in the colon. Again this is normal and means the colonic worked.”
7. Some People’s Moods Change
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
The actual colonic itself may not be too shocking. But the way some people say they feel may be. After the session, some people report feeling lighter, and “peppier,” Christina La Macchia, of Christina’s Colonics and Fitness, tells Bustle. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone, but some people do report feeling less bloated, and even experiencing a more even complexion.
Even though colonics are not for everyone, those who have undergone the treatment often say they experience no pain, but occasional cramping, as well as more frequent bowel movements thereafter. It is important to note that though colonics may seem like a popular form of detoxifying the body, some medical professionals warn against them. Anyone interested should talk to their doctor beforehand to learn the potential risks associated with colonics.
Colon Cleansing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Do you need to regularly cleanse your colon to keep your body healthy, or is washing out all your gut bacteria doing more harm than good?
While colon cleansing might seem like a relatively new trend that has sprung up in recent years, it’s actually an ancient practice dating back to as early as 1500 B.C. (1)
Regardless of how old the practice is, there is still a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of colon cleansing. How does it work, and is it necessary for gut health?
Do you struggle with bloating, gas, constipation, or other digestive issues? We’ve created a FREE guide to healing your gut naturally.
Read on to discover the surprising benefits of colon cleansing and the different methods of performing it.
What Is a Colon Cleanse?
Colon cleansing, or colon hydrotherapy, is the use of water or other “flushing” substances to remove waste and stool that may be stuck along the interior of your colon.
The goal of a colon cleanse is similar to washing or cleansing any other part of your body, which is to help it function more optimally by removing any sort of build-up or gunk. Think of it this way: you regularly wash your face to keep your skin clear and remove dirt from your pores. Otherwise, you may experience breakouts or other skin issues.
This is the same reason you might consider “cleansing” your colon, so you can avoid potential problems that may pop up if it’s also, ahem, clogged. And while everyone doesn’t necessarily need to do a colon cleanse, many people can benefit from the help of a colon cleanse to remove toxic waste and bacteria from their system.
Types of Colon Cleansing
There are several different variations when it comes to colon cleansing. The main thing you need to know is that colon cleanses come in two major categories: those you can do yourself, and those that are done by a professional.
Enemas are inexpensive kits that can be purchased at your local drug store and performed at home. They are milder than a procedure performed in a doctor’s office, but are effective for the lower parts of the colon.
To use an enema, you simply lie down, insert the pointed tip into your anus and let warm water flow into your colon. Wait until you have the urge to use the bathroom. From there, it’s a fairly straightforward process, as your colon is emptied over the next one to two hours.
Colonics (also referred to as colon hydrotherapy) are performed by a professional and can take roughly one or two hours to complete. This type of colon cleansing uses high quality water (and lots of it) to flush the entire colon. Typically this is done using gravity or a pressurized machine to flood the colon with water multiple times in order to rinse away compacted matter.
Colonics are thought to be the best way to cleanse the colon, since you’re flushing the entire system and even getting your abdomen massaged to further break up stuck-on material. During the procedure, a physician will insert a small lubricated speculum into your colon that is attached to tubes controlling water flow. At this point, the physician will likely leave the room as your colon is flushed (you will be very comfortable and can even watch the process through the tubes).
Usually each colonic session can cost $50 or more, so getting several colonics can be pricey. Every individual is different, so you may not know how many colonics you need until you get started.
Herbal Colon Cleansing
Another way to cleanse the colon is to consume herbal laxatives and fiber to stimulate bowel movements and “sweep away” impacted matter. Some popular herbal colon cleanses may contain herbs like aloe vera, ginger, fenugreek, apple pectin, and licorice.
Using gentle herbal laxatives is an easy way to help heal a bout of constipation and get things moving again. However, they generally aren’t as effective as a full-on colonic since it simply stimulates bowel movements, rather than adding water to “rinse” your colon.
Pros and Cons of Colon Cleansing
As with any procedure, there may be cons involved. Let’s take a look at the benefits versus the downsides of colon cleansing below.
Pros of Colon Cleansing
While there have only been a few small studies done on the benefits of colon cleansing, many natural health practitioners and individuals who have done colon cleanses say that benefits include:
- Detoxes the body by moving fecal matter and waste through your system faster
- Eliminates excess toxins that can damage your body (such as heavy metals)
- Improves digestion (2)
- Removes bad bacteria in your colon
One study showed that colonic irrigation was also able to help patients with irritable bowel syndrome improve symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. (3)
In addition, colon cleansing can potentially help improve your mood. This is because your colon contains an abundance of neurotransmitters connecting directly to your nervous system, which sends signals to your brain. (4) Studies show that your gut and gut microbes play a huge role in behavior and vice-versa, so anything (including backed-up waste) getting in the way of your gut neurotransmitter signals could potentially lead to mood troubles. (5)
Cons of Colon Cleansing
Potential dangers and side effects of colon cleansing include:
- Electrolyte imbalance from flushing so much water through your system
- Infection (possibly from unclean tools or home kits not being properly cleaned)
Colon cleansing isn’t technically necessary for anyone; however, it can be extremely beneficial for people dealing with digestive issues. This is especially true if the problem is recurring and you’ve never even done a gentle herbal cleanse.
Is Colon Cleansing Safe?
Colon cleansing is generally safe, but keep in mind that you are essentially intervening in your body’s normal way of running things by inserting water into your colon. Any time we place something in our bodies manually, there is a slight risk of an adverse effect.
Some of the main concerns you need to keep in mind when doing any type of colon cleanse is electrolytes. Make sure you’re eating enough electrolyte foods, such as coconut water, sweet potatoes, avocados, and leafy greens, so your levels are optimal to begin with.
In addition, it’s crucial that the equipment you use is sanitary, whether you’re doing an enema or having a colonic done with a professional.
Regardless of what type of colon cleansing you’re doing, be sure to avoid overdoing it. Talk with your doctor first to help guide you in the right direction. Also, be sure to monitor how you’re feeling during the cleanse, and watch for any dizziness or weakness, which may be signs of dehydration.
Safer Alternatives to Colon Cleansing
Before jumping straight into colon cleansing, you might want to consider more gentle ways to keep things moving, such as consuming nutrient-rich juices that you press yourself, like celery juice filled with roots and herbs like ginger and peppermint to stimulate digestion. You can also blend them into a smoothie if you don’t have a juicer. Be sure to stay away from processed and fruit juices, as these tend to be high in sugar.
You also want to make sure that you’re eating plenty of probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and non-dairy yogurt regularly to support bowel movements and healthy gut bacteria levels. Couple this with fiber-rich foods like broccoli, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and cabbage to help move waste through your colon to keep it clean.
Finally, try drinking teas that promote healthy digestion, such as peppermint, fennel, or ginger tea. (6)
The Bottom Line
Determining whether to have a colon cleanse is a purely personal decision that depends on a variety of factors. Your best bet is to talk to your doctor to see which option is best for you. Many people swear by the benefits cleansing your colon can bring, so it definitely can’t hurt to consider it as an option, especially if simply eating healthily isn’t working as well as it should.
(Read This Next: Natural Laxatives to Relieve Bloating and Constipation)
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Colon cleansing is an alternative medicine practice used to eliminate the build up of wastes and toxins in the colon. While there are many purported benefits to cleansing, there are several side effects as well. Some of the most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, bloating, cramping, constipation and fatigue. These side effects are considered normal to the process of cleansing and will resolve with time. However, there are some side effects to cleansing that are more severe in nature and potentially dangerous.
Mild Side Effects
Some of the common mild side effects associated with colon cleansing include diarrhea, dehydration, fatigue and in some cases, allergic reactions to the ingredients contained in cleanse products. Cleanse products that contain the herb, Senna, may cause diarrhea. Diarrhea upsets your body’s electrolyte balance. Long-term electrolyte imbalance and mineral loss can lead to severe health problems, such as heart attack, kidney failure, and in rare cases, death. Senna may also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb water, resulting in dehydration. This will further exacerbate the electrolyte imbalances caused by diarrhea. Finally, Senna carries allergy risks. If you develop symptoms such as swelling, hives or trouble breathing, you should immediately discontinue use of the product.
Severe Side Effects
Some of the negative side effects of colon hydrotherapy and enema are more severe. They include the risk of perforation, or puncturing or tearing, of the intestinal wall and subsequent infection. During the process of colon hydrotherapy, water is infused into the colon through the rectum several times and a colon hydrotherapist employs light massage to help break up waste material. This procedure should be performed under the supervision of a trained hydrotherapist. Enemas also introduce water into the colon through the rectum, but it is a less extensive cleanse and can be done by you at home. Both procedures carry the risk of severe side effects related to improper administration and faulty equipment. The instruments used must be sterilized and inserted properly to avoid injury. Tearing of the anal tissue or a puncture of the gastrointestinal wall is painful. Furthermore, if infection develops in the damaged tissue, you could become ill and possibly die.
Dependency to enemas and cleanse products is another side effect of colon cleansing. Enemas are not meant to replace your body’s natural ability to eliminate waste products. It is important that you not become dependent on them to move your bowels, as this will compromise your health. Similarly, it is possible to develop an addiction to the herb, Senna. You should carefully monitor your body’s reaction to cleanse procedures and products.