What Is a Natural Colon Cleanse?
Natural colon cleanses flush waste out of your large intestine. Some products that come in the form of high-fiber supplements, herbal teas, enzymes, and enemas claim to help you do this at home. And some practitioners offer a type of colon cleanse -- called colon hydrotherapy or colonic -- that pushes a lot of water through your bowels with a tube.
You do have to cleanse your colon before a medical procedure like a colonoscopy. And some people think a regular cleanse is simply a good way to “detox” your body. But does it work? Doctors don’t think so. There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that colon cleansing can help improve your health. Even worse, some cleanses can be harmful.
Your colon health is important. But you don’t need to take extra steps to clean it. Your body already does that. It’s called pooping. With all the hype, it’s normal if you’re curious about a colon cleanse. Here are some things you should know.
What Are the Claims?
The notion that a routine colon cleanse would provide health benefits comes from the theory of “autointoxication.” That’s the idea that poop builds up along the walls of your large intestine and stays there where harmful toxins can soak into your body and make you sick. But experts debunked this theory a hundred years ago. The American Medical Association condemned colon cleansing in 1919.
Still, some companies say their colon cleansing products or procedures can:
- Get rid of harmful organisms
- Improve your immune system
- Help you lose weight
- Aid in digestion
- Improve your mood
- Lower your chances of colon cancer
- Give you more energy
- Help with acne, arthritis, allergies, or headaches
But there isn’t any strong scientific research to support these claims. Government agencies have even banned some colon cleansing products from advertising.
Types of Natural Colon Cleanses
You can take some colon-cleansing products by mouth as a powder, tea, or pill. Others you can put in your rectum. But colon hydrotherapy is never an at-home do-it-yourself procedure. The goal of all these methods is to get poop out of your intestines. Before you try any type of colon cleanse, talk to your doctor.
Oral supplements or teas may contain:
- Laxative herbs (Senna, cascara, aloe, milk thistle, cat’s claw)
- Non-stimulant herbs
- Fiber (psyllium, flaxseed)
- Magnesium oxide
- Sodium phosphate
- Probiotics (healthy bacteria)
Other kinds of natural colon cleansing methods may include:
- Enemas. These treat constipation. You can get them online or at a pharmacy without a prescription. You push fluid from a bag into your lower intestine. The liquid goes through a tube into your rectum. This expands your bowels and causes you to poop. The solution may contain saline or natural products like garlic, aloe, coffee, or milk thistle.
- Saltwater flush. Sodium pulls water from the body into the colon. That’s why if you mix salt with water it can make you poop.
- Colonic hydrotherapy or irrigation. These are similar to an enema. But they use a lot more water. A colonic hygienist may flush 16 gallons of liquid into your bowel with a tube. It will take about 30-45 minutes. The hygienist will massage your belly, and your waste will come out through another tube. The solution sometimes includes herbs or coffee.
Are Natural Colon Cleanses Effective?
There is no evidence that a natural colon cleanse can make you any healthier. In fact, colonic hydrotherapy tools may introduce bacteria into the body. And the specialists who use them may not always clean them the right way.
But, these products and procedures can help remove stool from your bowel. If laxatives don’t seem to work for you, colonic irrigation is a fast way to relieve constipation. Your doctor can let you know if that’s a good option for you.
Are There Risks?
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate natural colon-cleansing products. That means the government can’t tell you what’s in them or if they’re safe. They may not work as advertised or they may be dangerous. In fact, coffee enemas might have contributed to several deaths.
A colon cleanse may cause some of these moderate to severe side effects:
- An imbalance in the body’s essential electrolytes, like sodium and potassium
- Nausea or throwing up
- Stomach cramps
- Kidney damage
- Damage to the healthy bacteria in your intestines
- Constipation (if you use laxatives, enemas, or fiber supplements too often)
After a colonic irrigation, you may also have:
You should avoid a natural colon cleanse if you are pregnant or have:
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- A history of colon surgery
- Severe hemorrhoids
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Bowel or rectal cancer
Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment like a colon cleanse. The doctor can let you know if it’s safe for you. If you have trouble pooping or changes in your bowel habits, check with your health care provider. You may have something more serious going on. You could have a bowel blockage or other unknown or serious medical condition.
Safe Ways to Keep Your Colon Healthy
There are several ways you can keep your colon in good shape. You should eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. These have fiber that can bulk up your stool and keep things moving. And drink plenty of water. This can soften your stool and help with constipation.
You should also:
- Exercise at least a few times a week
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Limit your alcohol use
- Cut down on red and processed meat
- Ask your doctor about probiotics
When Do You Really Need a Colon Cleanse?
You will need to empty your bowels completely if you get a colonoscopy. That’s a test where a doctor looks at the walls of your colon with a camera. It’s the only medical reason for a colon cleanse. If you need this type of exam, your doctor will tell you how to prepare in a safe way.
Dr. Michael Bass, gastroenterologist, Gastroenterology Specialists of Delaware.
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National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “‘Detoxes and Cleanses’: What You need To Know,” “Marketers of 7 Day Miracle Cleanse Program Banned From Infomercials.”
MD Anderson Cancer Center: “Colon Cleansing: Healthy or hype?”
Cedars-Sinai: “Ask a Doc: Are Colon Cleanses Healthy?”
Mayo Clinic: “Is colon cleansing a good way to eliminate toxins from your body?”
ISRN Pharmacology: “Pharmacokinetics of Caffeine Following a Single Administration of Coffee Enema Versus Oral Coffee Consumption in Healthy Male Subjects.”
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National Kidney Foundation: “Oral Sodium Phosphate Safety Alerts.”
Journal of Minimal Access Surgery: “Herbal enema: At the cost of colon.”
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Cleveland Clinic: “Colon Cleansing: Is It Safe?”
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American Cancer Society: “Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer.”
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