Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful?
Colon cleansing is normally used as preparation for medical procedures such as a colonoscopy. However, some alternative medicine practitioners offer colon cleansing for other purposes, such as detoxification.
But colon cleansing — also called a colonic or a colonic irrigation — for such purposes isn't necessary. That's because your digestive system and bowel already eliminate waste material and bacteria from your body.
During a colon cleanse, large amounts of water — sometimes up to 16 gallons (about 60 liters) — and possibly other substances, such as herbs or coffee, are flushed through the colon. This is done using a tube that's inserted into the rectum. In some cases, smaller amounts of water are used and are left to sit in the colon for a short time before being removed.
Proponents of colon cleansing believe that toxins from your gastrointestinal tract can cause a variety of health problems, such as arthritis and high blood pressure. They believe that colon cleansing improves health by removing toxins, boosting your energy and enhancing your immune system. However, there's no evidence that colon cleansing produces these effects or is beneficial at all.
And colon cleansing can sometimes be harmful. In fact, coffee enemas sometimes used in colon cleansing have been linked to several deaths. Colon cleansing can also cause less serious side effects, such as cramping, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Other potential concerns 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 problems
If you choose to try colon cleansing, take these precautions:
- Check with your conventional medical provider first, especially if you take any medications or have any health problems, such as kidney or heart disease.
- Make sure your colon-cleansing practitioner is reputable and uses disposable equipment that hasn't been previously used.
- Get a list of specific herbal ingredients and amounts in any colon-cleansing products you use — some ingredients can cause health problems.
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