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Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful?

Can colon cleansing get rid of toxins from the body?

Updated: 2024-05-10

Answer Section

Colon cleansing is a process that involves flushing out the large intestine with liquid such as water. It's commonly done before some medical procedures, so that healthcare professionals can see inside the intestine. People who practice alternative medicine offer colon cleansings for other reasons, such as removing chemicals called toxins from the body. But you don't need a colon cleansing to get rid of toxins, also known as detoxing. Detoxing the colon also is not recommended or needed for any medical condition.

Some alternative medicine professionals believe that toxins from the digestive tract can cause headaches, arthritis and other conditions. They think that colon cleansing removes toxins and boosts energy or the immune system. But there's no evidence that colon cleansing offers these helpful effects. What's more, the digestive system already gets rid of waste material and germs called bacteria from the body. Also, research doesn't show that the body holds on to toxins from regular diet or activity.

There are two main types of colon cleanses. One type flushes out the colon with a large amount of liquid. This is called colonic irrigation, also known as a colonic. It's done using a tube that's placed in the rectum, the last few inches of the large intestine. The other main type of colon cleansing, called an enema, empties the colon using a small amount of liquid. The liquid is held in the large intestine for a short time before being removed. Colon cleanses done for medical reasons use water. Colon cleanses done for detoxing sometimes use herbal solutions, coffee or coffee grounds instead of water.

Colon cleansing can be dangerous. Coffee enemas have been linked to many deaths. And in general, colon cleansing also can cause less serious side effects. These include cramping, bloating, diarrhea, upset stomach and vomiting. For some bowel conditions such as colitis or a blocked intestine, colon cleansing can lead to worse symptoms. It also can lead to complications such as bleeding in the digestive tract.

Other risks of colon cleansing include:

  • Losing too much fluid, also called dehydration.
  • A tear in the rectum, also called a perforation, caused by placing a tube in the rectum.
  • Infection.
  • A change in the balance of important minerals in the body called electrolytes. This can be dangerous if you have kidney or heart disease, or other health conditions.

If you choose to try colon cleansing, take these safety measures:

  • Check with your main healthcare professional first. This is key if you take any medicines or have any health conditions. For example, colon cleansing can cause side effects in people who have digestive, kidney or heart diseases.
  • Choose an experienced alternative medicine professional with a good reputation. If you want to get a colon cleansing, ask your main healthcare professional to recommend a professional who practices alternative medicine. You also can ask a local hospital, medical school or state health agency for recommendations. Once you find an alternative medicine professional who offers colon cleansings, look into that professional's education, training, licensing and certifications. And be aware that colon cleansing equipment should be used once and thrown out.
  • Get a list of specific herbal ingredients and amounts in any colon-cleansing products used. Some ingredients, such as coffee, can cause health problems.