Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Are colon cleanses good for you?"
One of my friends who works in a health food store is always recommending that I get a colon cleanse. I've heard they're good for you, but I've never seen any real data. Are colon cleanses healthy, or not?
While speaking to your primary doctor or gastroenterologist is important for specific situations, in general the simple answer is: probably not. Colonic therapy is the cleansing of the large intestine (also known as the colon) through the administration of water, herbal solutions, enzymes or other substances. As far back as the ancient Egyptians, enemas and other cleansing rituals were commonly used in order to remove the "toxins" from the body before they were absorbed. However, we know that there are very few toxins actually living in the colon. By the time the stool gets to that part of your gastrointestinal tract, your body has already absorbed most of what it will. Some people say colon cleanses removes bacteria, but that doesn't really make sense. There are bacteria that normally live in the colon that you could theoretically wash out, but these bacteria actually protect your system from foreign bacteria that can invade and cause infection. There is no proven benefit to cleansing your colon, outside of a setting of constipation or medical procedure. While there is no known benefit, there are known risks. Potential hazards include infection (inserting foreign bacteria), electrolyte shifts or even perforation/puncture of the colon's wall. These can be life threatening especially if you have other disease such as heart failure, diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease. Currently the Food and Drug Administration (the government body that studies this) only allows the colonic irrigation devices to be used for a medical need, such as cleaning the colon before an examination. They have not approved any colonic irrigation machine for routine use. Talk to your doctor if you are having specific abdominal or stool complaints. In general, a colon cleanses is not helpful and may be harmful.
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