If you're thinking about using an over-the-counter colon cleanser, or seeking out a "colonic cleansing" professional, you may want to reconsider. The majority of doctors do not advocate this practice, which can have serious side effects and is believed unnecessary by the majority of medical professionals. The American Medical Association (AMA) realized that this practice could be dangerous as early as 1919, and their position has not changed to date. Before you purchase that pill, powder or enema, learn why colon cleansing is not generally recommended.
Proponents of this practice claim that the cleansing removes years of waste build-up and toxicity in the colon, which can help relieve chronic problems such as asthma, allergies, and even skin conditions like eczema. However, there are no scientific or medical studies linking colon cleansing to the cure of these medical problems.
Your Colon Has a Built-In Cleanser
Just like most ovens, the colon has a "self-cleaning" mechanism built in. Although it's the warehouse for stool and waste from your body, the colon is not tainted by this waste, nor does it retain waste particles for long. The inner lining of your colon is composed of a smooth mucous membrane similar to what's in your mouth, but with more structure.
There are two types of bacteria in your colon: Good bacteria and bad bacteria. Some types of bacteria come from food you've eaten, but others are naturally present in your intestines. There may be as many as 500 different types of bacteria in your colon right now, but each has a purpose. When you remove the good bacteria, the bad bacteria can grow unchecked, leaving you with uncomfortable side effects and an increased risk of infection.
Risks of Cleansing
Forcing stool out of your body can have several uncomfortable—and even dangerous—side effects including:
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
- Bowel perforation (if not used properly, an enema can put a hole in your bowel)
- Kidney failure (from protracted cleansing)
Who Should Not Attempt to Cleanse, Ever
Although completing a colonic cleanse is discouraged for everyone, certain people may suffer devastating effects if they have one. Unless your doctor informs you differently, if you experience any of the following, you should abstain from colon cleansing:
- Any type of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's
- Kidney or heart disease
- Colon surgery
Types of Cleansers
Colon cleansing products hide under many different guises. Simply put, the majority of them force you to have a bowel movement, or are used to "wash out" the inside of your colon (such as with an enema). Some products taken orally for this purpose include:
- Herbal preparations (milk thistle, cats claw)
- Laxatives (sodium phosphate, sennakot, cascara)
- Fiber supplements (psyllium, flaxseed)
- Enzymes or probiotics (lactobacillus)
- Proprietary blends containing a mixture of the above
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medical device, such as an enema, for the sole purpose of colonic cleansing without medical need (colonoscopy prep, for example).
A new profession has emerged this century: the role of the "colon hydrotherapist," or "colon hygienist." Many people seek the services of these people, who have been trained to administer colonic hydrotherapy (an enema). At this time, there is no governmental organization that delegates what training is required, and there's no licensure required—although the hygienist must have a high school diploma and training to practice. According to the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy, certification and examination is voluntary.
If you decide to partake in colon cleansing, remember these points for your safety:
- Talk to your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition or take prescription medications
- Do not re-use enemas and do not seek the care of any provider that does
- Make sure you drink plenty of clear liquids to prevent dehydration
- Report any ill-effects to your physician—don't ignore side effects
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Quigly, E.M.M, & Quera, R. (2006). Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: Roles of Antibiotics, Prebiotics, and Probiotics.Gastroenterology; 130: 78-90. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Mishori, R., Otubu, A., & Jones, A. A. (August 2011). The Dangers of Colon Cleansing.The Journal of Family Practice. 60; 8. Accessed September 17, 2012.
National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy. (n.d.). NBCHT Home. Accessed September 20, 2012.