Colon Cleansing: Don't Be Misled By the Claims

hospital care image (big)"Colon cleansers effectively eliminate large quantities of toxic waste, affecting the condition and vitality of the entire body."

"Colonics...increase the release of old, encrusted colon waste, encourage discharge of toxins and parasites, freshen the gastrointestinal tract and make the whole cleansing process easier and more thorough."

"Cleansing is the first step in a good weight control program."

So read ads for so-called internal cleansers. These enemas, laxatives, strong herbal teas, powders, and pills are meant to clean out the large intestine (colon). You can find them online, at health food stores, and even in some local stores.

The Sales Pitch

Sellers of these products say cleansing is needed for well-being. The pitch goes like this. We live in an age in which toxins build up in the body. The air we breathe is polluted and the food we eat has pesticides and other harmful chemicals. We get sick when these poisons stay in the body.

As one seller puts it, certain foods "tend to stick and putrefy in the folds and pockets of the intestines. When your colon is not getting rid of wastes as it should, toxins are reabsorbed into the blood, poisoning the entire system and weakening your other eliminative organs." More briefly stated, "the colon walls are encrusted with stagnant waste."

Misleading Information

Do not always believe what you read. Many of the claims are a mix of truths and half-truths. You do not need to spend lots of money to help nature do its job. The body can get rid of toxins on its own.

The cells of your digestive system turn over every three days. This is fast enough so that there is no crust or putrefying food in your colon. Also, bacteria in the colon naturally metabolize and detoxify food wastes. And mucous membranes lining the intestinal wall block unwanted substances from getting into the body's other tissues. The liver works to neutralize toxins as well.

Bowel Movements Vary

Sellers of these cleansers tell you to look for signs that your body isn't working as it should. They say that one sign is having fewer than 2 to 3 bowel movements a day. But that has nothing to do with whether you need a laxative or other medicine. The number of bowel movements in a day differs from person to person. It can be a few times a day to a few times a week. They only time something may be wrong is when your pattern changes.

Not Useful for Weight Loss

Sellers say that having more bowel movements stops calories from being absorbed, which leads to weight loss. But that just isn't true. Just about all calories are absorbed well before food makes its way to the colon. This makes these claims unlikely.

Vague Signs

Most of the symptoms that sellers say are a sign of a poorly-working colon could happen to just about everyone at one time or another. One seller says the signals that toxins are building up in your system are that "you may feel sluggish or bloated or you may have brain fog. You may wake up feeling tired and blue." Another lists these common symptoms: headaches, depression, poor memory, low energy, and weight gain.

The claims that these products work are also vague. "With your body free of harmful toxins, you will feel younger, better, healthier, and happier!" one seller says. Another says that "when the colon is kept clean, disease in the body is very rare." Still others make claims of better alertness and more energy.

Harmful Side Effects

You are told not to worry if you feel sick when taking the cleanser. They say it is a sign that the product is working. One product claims that digestive discomfort along with flu-like symptoms are "temporary, positive signs that your body is working to rid itself of the toxin build-up."

Another product ad reads, "Do not be alarmed if you pass strings of mucus for a couple of weeks as this is a good sign that you are detoxifying." Yet another product tells you to "just relax and appreciate your body's cleansing process if you develop any of the following: headaches, bad breath or body odor, dizziness, irritability, skin eruptions, or low energy."

But do not relax. Dizziness could be a sign that you are becoming dehydrated. And strings of mucus are the intestine's response to stimulation. It may mean that the body views the cleanser as a toxin and is trying to get rid of it.

The US Food and Drug Administration sellers to make claims they cannot stand behind. They have issued warning letters in many states to keep the public safe from these harmful side effects.

Colon Tips

There is no evidence that colon cleansing works. Here are some better ways to flush your colon:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat a healthful diet that is high in fiber and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Move bowels when you feel the urge.
RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
http://www.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
http://www.cag-acg.org

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
http://www.cdhf.ca

REFERENCES:

Barrett S. Gastrointestinal quackery: colonics, laxatives, and more. Quack Watch website. Available at: https://quackwatch.org/related/gastro. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Constipation. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/constipation. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Constipation in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/constipation-in-adults. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 11/4/2021