Colon Cleansers: Are they necessary? Do they even work?
Protecting Yourself Against Health Fraud
Colon cleansing products are back on tv again, touting how vital it is for you to use these supplements to "get rid of toxins" embedded in your colon, and up to "5 pounds of undigested meat" that are "stuck in your colon". Can it be that your colon isn't able to flush out waste? Isn't this the purpose of a colon?
The colon cleanser's claim
Advocates of colon cleansing claim that toxins from your gastrointestinal tract can cause a variety of health problems, such as bloating, arthritis, allergies and asthma. There is one product which is heavily advertised, called Colon Flow, that claims "Remove Excess Waste And Toxins! Experience Increased Healthy Energy!" On their website, they say: "... undigested meat and other foods can cause a buildup of mucus in the colon. This mucus produces toxins that are then absorbed into the bloodstream ultimately poisoning the body. This is referred to as autointoxication."
Other advocates believe that colon cleansing, also called "a colonic" or a colonic irrigation, improves health by removing toxins, promoting healthy intestinal bacteria, thereby boosting your energy and enhancing your immune system.
The doctor's perspective:
There's little evidence from credible sources that colon cleansing produces these effects. Of course the manufacturers and sellers of these products often cite their own studies, which are neither independent nor accepted by credible medical authorities and medical researchers. So, rather than taking the manufacturer's word, let's examine what independent and credible medical authorities say:
In answer to the question "Is colon cleansing a good way to eliminate
toxins from your body?",
Michael F. Picco, of WedMD, says:
"Although doctors prescribe colon cleansing as preparation for medical procedures such as colonoscopy, most don't recommend colon cleansing for detoxification. In fact, colon cleansing can sometimes be harmful. Colon cleansing can cause side effects, such as cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. ... More serious concerns with colon cleansing are that it can:
- Increase your risk of dehydration
- Lead to bowel perforations
- Increase the risk of infection
- Cause changes in your electrolytes, which can be dangerous if you have kidney disease or other health problems."
The American Cancer Society says: "Available scientific evidence does not support claims that colon therapy is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. Rare cases of infection and death have been reported."
- Natural bacteria in the colon can detoxify food wastes.
- The liver also neutralizes toxins.
- Mucus membranes in the colon can keep unwanted substances from reentering the blood and tissues.
- The colon sheds old cells about every 3 days, preventing a buildup of harmful material.
- The normal number of bowel movements varies from person to person.
- Increasing the number of bowel movements doesn't improve weight loss. That's because the body absorbs most calories before they reach the large intestine.
The Government's perspective:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements used in oral colon-cleansing regimens and manufacturer claims do not require verification or supporting evidence. The contents of the products are also not verified or tested. The FDA has issued several letters warning manufacturers and suppliers of colon hydrotherapy equipment about making false claims of effectiveness, safety issues and quality control violations.
A quick search in Google turns up the following complaints about unauthorized charges and ineffectiveness of the products:
Our bottom line:
We believe using colon cleansers is idiotic and is literally flushing your money away. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, including natural fiber, as is found in vegetables, fruits, oatmeal, etc., has been shown in reputable, credible medical studies to reduce the risk of colon cancer and improve health over all. Ingesting unregulated supplements or pushing garden hoses into your anus seems an inherently stupid thing to do.
Advice for those who insist on taking these products:
If you are going to consume a colon cleansing product, at least have the sense to follow this advice:
- Check with your doctor first, especially if you are on any medications or have any health problems.
- Research the products, find out what specific herbs and ingredients are present; and check these with your doctor.
- Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- "Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, Laxatives, and More". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
- "How Clean Should Your Colon Be?". American Council on Science and Health. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
- "Colon Cleansing: Money Down the Toilet". LiveScience. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
- "Health 'Facts' You Only Thought You Knew" - NY Times - James Brody, Published: July 22, 2008
- "Colonic irrigation and the theory of auto-intoxication: a triumph of ignorance over science". Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology 24 (4): 196'8. doi:10.1097/00004836-199706000-00002. PMID 9252839.
- "Does colonic irrigation do you any good?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
- "Colon Cleansing: Don't Be Misled By the Claims". Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- "Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful?". The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2008-11-09.
- "The Dangers of Colon Cleansing". HealthAtoZ.com. Archived from the original on 2008-06-13. Retrieved 2008-09-01.
- "Amebiasis associated with colonic irrigation'Colorado". ^ Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (March 1981). MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 30 (9): 101'2. PMID 6789134.