Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful?
Is colon cleansing an effective way to get rid of toxins from your body?
Answer From Michael F. Picco, M.D.
Colon cleansing is typically used as preparation for medical procedures such as a colonoscopy. Nevertheless, some alternative medicine practitioners provide colon cleansing for other purposes, such as detoxification.
But colon cleansing — also called a colonic or a colonic irrigation — for such goals isn't needed. That's because your digestive system and bowel already get rid of waste material and bacteria from your body.
During a colon cleanse, big amounts of water — sometimes up to 16 gallons (about 60 liters) — and probably other substances, such as herbs or coffee, are flushed through the colon. This is performed using a tube that's inserted into the rectum. In some situations, smaller amounts of water are used and are left to sit in the colon for a short time before being eliminated.
Supporters of colon cleansing claim that toxins from your gastrointestinal tract can lead to a range of health issues, such as arthritis and high blood pressure. They say that colon cleansing enhances health by getting rid of toxins, enhancing your energy and boosting your immune system. Nevertheless, there's no evidence that colon cleansing creates these effects or is beneficial at all.
And colon cleansing can sometimes be damaging. In fact, coffee enemas sometimes used in colon cleansing have been connected to a few deaths. Colon cleansing can also lead to less serious side effects, such as cramping, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Other potential worries with colon cleansing include:
- A tear in the rectum (perforation)
- A change in your electrolyte balance, which can be dangerous if you have kidney or heart disease or other health issues
If you choose to try colon cleansing, take these precautions:
1. Check with your traditional medical provider first, especially if you take any medications or have any health issues, such as kidney or heart disease.
2. Make sure your colon-cleansing practitioner is reputable and uses disposable equipment that hasn't been previously used.
3. Get a list of particular herbal ingredients and amounts in any colon-cleansing products you use — some ingredients can lead to health issues.