Colon Cleansing: Not Necessary—and Potentially Dangerous

Colon cleanses or colonics have become a trendy option for “detoxifying” the system. There are many claims for colon cleansing online and in print but, in fact, scientific evidence does not support it. Read on and learn more before you swim with the tide of fashion.

colon cleansing kit

Colon cleansing products: Not a good idea.

© Hafakot | Dreamstime

Colon cleansing is in fashion—and it’s a big business. You’ve likely heard people talking about having a colon cleanse as if they were going to a spa for a massage. But be very careful! There are no scientific studies that support any benefits from this practice—except for the bank accounts of the people who push them. “Colon therapy” (also called colon hydrotherapy, a colonic, or colonic irrigation) was popular in the 1920s and 1930s, then it fell out of fashion… and now it’s back—big time. In Great Britain alone, 5,600 colon cleansings are performed every month.

Where did the idea that the colon needs cleansing come from?

Colon cleansing is a procedure that is performed to rid the colon (the large intestine) of its contents. You may ask yourself, what types of contents? From ancient times, there has been the belief that foods that are not properly digested—among them meat—can contribute to the formation of toxins on the walls of the colon and along the whole gastrointestinal tract.

Those who defend this practice claim that when these toxins reach the blood, the body is poisoned and requires detoxification. They say that this “poisoning” is the reason for fatigue, weight gain, and headaches. In the United States, it is quite common to call the procedure a “natural colon cleanse.” In fact, there is nothing natural about it. Science shows that this “poisoning” does not occur and these symptoms are not due to a build-up of toxins. What is natural is simply allowing your body to do what it was designed to do.

Colon Cleansing Myths vs. Facts

Here are the facts about the body’s “need” for colon cleansing.

  • First, it isn’t true that everyone must have a bowel movement (evacuate) daily. There are people whose usual pattern is to have a bowel movement every two or three days. And that’s perfectly normal.
  • Second, there are natural bacteria in the colon that detoxify what is found in the bowels.
  • Third, the bowel mucosa doesn’t allow harmful substances in the colon to be absorbed into the bloodstream and into our bodies.
  • And, fourth, the liver is like a laboratory in the body, which also works on detoxification. Nature is very wise and doesn’t require artificial cleaning of the colon.

What about the supposed benefits for weight loss? Normally, having a bowel movement does not make you lose weight, since most of the calories are absorbed before the contents of the digestive system get to the large intestine. Using laxatives or colonic irrigation causes you to lose water weight, but not fat. So, it does not produce lasting weight loss. And, worse, with a colon cleansing, you can wash out useful minerals and the very beneficial bacteria that actually do detoxify the system!

How Is a Colon Cleansing Done?

Generally speaking, there are two ways to perform a “natural” colon cleansing, according to the marketing materials for these “therapies.” The first: You can do it yourself at home, using laxatives, enzymes, herbal teas, anti-parasite powders, and capsules, or even enemas. There are hundreds of “colon cleanses” on the market. But, as you can see, they are not very “natural”—no matter what the manufacturers would have you think.

The second way of cleansing your colon is by going to a “specialist” trained in colonic therapy. This procedure is called colonic irrigation. It uses a machine to pump water into your colon, through your rectum, by means of a kind of hose. Through a second hose, the operator drains the water from your intestinal tract, cleaning out your colon. Basically, it’s a more intense kind of enema.

colon cleansing

[Photo: © Arne9001 | Dreamstime]

Are colon cleanses advisable?

I believe that nature is wise and that this type of procedure is unnecessary, since the body is designed to eliminate waste material naturally. You can keep your colon “clean” by maintaining a healthy diet rich in fiber (fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains), drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly. This is what’s truly natural. If you find that you’re constipated and healthy habits are not enough to clear the problem, see your doctor. He or she can look for any potential medical problems that could be causing or contributing to constipation.

Sometimes, your doctor will prescribe a colon cleansing for a diagnostic procedure like a colonoscopy. But this is different. It’s not a “detoxification” procedure. Its purpose is to clear out anything that could block the view of the inside of the colon to check for polyps (precancerous lesions) or for other problems.

Side Effects and Complications of Colon Cleansing

Colon cleansings can have side effects—some of them quite dangerous. After cleaning your colon, you can have:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration or related symptoms
  • Leg cramps due to low potassium
  • Problems with some medicines
  • Perforations of the bowel
  • Infections (including hepatitis B or C and HIV if the equipment used is not disposable or if it has not been properly sterilized)

If you have a kidney condition or cardiovascular condition, check with your doctor in advance, because cleansing products that contain sodium phosphate can be especially dangerous.

Think Twice about a Colon Cleanse

Finally, if you think that the procedure is safe because it uses natural products such as herbs, let me assure you that this is not true. Many people think that natural products or procedures are good for their bodies simply because they’re natural. But remember that some plants, even though they haven’t undergone a chemical process, can be harmful for your health. Think about it: Cyanide, tobacco, and cocaine are all “natural,” and they can kill you.

Other natural cures are marvelous: doctors prescribe them all the time, once they’ve been scientifically and rigorously tested—for example, digoxin, which comes from a plant. But they must be administered in very precise dosages.

Do not try colon cleansing without first talking with your doctor. Remember that your body already has all the tools it needs to eliminate waste material and to “detoxify.” Also keep in mind that if you have colon cleansings too often or use too many herbal laxatives or teas—even if they’re natural—it’s possible that your body will start to depend on them and stop using what nature gave it (the normal functioning of your colon). Then you’ll really have a problem.

Don’t expose your body to unnecessary procedures. Look for information based on science, not on sales pitches. And, if you decide to go ahead and do cleanses, don’t make it a habit—remember the risks. The more information you have, the better decisions you will make about your health.

Source: La limpieza del colon: no es necesaria y podría ser peligrosa
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Aliza Lifshitz, MD

Aliza Lifshitz M.D. (Doctora Aliza) is a renowned physician, author, and health reporter. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of, the largest online source of health and medical information … Read More

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