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Few “natural health” practices are as controversial as colon cleansing. Fans say it helps with everything from weight loss to chronic arthritis pain. Opponents say it’s useless (at best) and maybe even dangerous. Who’s right?. Read more

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Colon Cleansing: Is It Just a Pain in the Butt?

Colon “hygenists” say that good health demands colon cleansing. After all, we don’t rely on nature to keep our scalp or teeth clean. Just as we routinely shampoo and brush our teeth, we should proactively rid our colon of the residual stool, bacteria and dietary toxins that inevitably get stuck inside it. Keeping your colon clean, they say, helps you feel better, improves body function and prevents disease.


Colon irrigation, colonic hydrotherapy, a high colonic. Call it what you will, the procedure has been around since the ancient Greeks.  And today’s enthusiasts claim it offers remarkable benefits: relieving recurrent heartburn, chronic constipation and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome); alleviating arthritis pain; curing food allergies and chronic fatigue; stabilizing blood pressure; eradicating skin ailments from acne to eczema, psoriasis and fungal infection; stimulating rapid weight loss; easing withdrawal from drug, alcohol or cigarette addiction; ending chronic yeast infection; stopping migraine headache; and soothing symptoms of menopause.


For years, the traditional medical community has disagreed, arguing that no reputable studies have shown colon cleansing to offer medical benefit. Then last summer The Journal of Family Practice published an article by a team of Georgetown University doctors who claim their retrospective review of 20 studies on colon cleansing produced no evidence that the procedure promotes health and, in fact, may actually cause side effects as serious as colon perforation and kidney failure. Since then, it has become difficult to separate scientific fact from frightening fiction.  But let’s try…


Healthy people don’t accumulate dangerous toxins in their colon. Ranit Mishori, MD, led the Georgetown team. In her view, “The body has a system of detoxifying itself—it’s called pee and poop. And for healthy people, that’s all it takes.” Glenn D. Braunstein, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles agrees: “The colon also cleanses itself, shedding old cells about every three days so material doesn’t build up.” You do not need colon cleansing to keep your digestive tract healthy.


Colon cleansing won’t rob you of crucial gut bacteria. This common argument against the practice has little validity. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of good bacteria that live in your colon, helping you digest your food and absorb its essential nutrients. Although colonic hydrotherapy removes many of them, most experts agree that beneficial microflora are extremely resilient, reproduce easily and quickly repopulate the gut.  If periodic colon cleansing makes you feel better, there’s no reason not to book an appointment every now and then.   


But done too often, colon cleansing may disrupt normal bowel function.  The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has stated that, in particular, people with a history of IBS or chronic constipation can benefit from the procedure. Yet some doctors argue that these are the people most likely to develop a dependency.  So if you suffer from such problems, be careful not to become reliant.

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The greatest risk of colon cleansing is infection from improperly sterilized equipment.  Responsible cleansing clinics use only disposable equipment that is never used on more than one patient. It’s also important to work with a well-qualified hydrotherapist, someone trained and certified by the International Association of Colon Hydrotherapy or the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy.   


Alternatively, you can opt for an “oral colon cleansing.” As gastroenterologist Francisco J. Marrero, MD, argues, “If you don’t ‘toxify,’ you don’t need to detoxify.” A healthy diet that includes plenty of water and enough fiber (25 grams daily for women and 35 grams for men) keeps your colon clean. In addition, you should emphasize physical activity because it increases blood flow throughout your body. The better your blood flow, the easier it is for your colon to work efficiently.


So what’s the take away? There’s no scientific data proving the therapeutic value of colon cleansing. But there is no reputable study that conclusively finds it to be dangerous, either. Thousands of enthusiasts swear by it. And, according to at least one colon hydrotherapist, many physicians book regular appointments for themselves even while discouraging their patients from undergoing the procedure—because they fear peer pressure and potential liability.




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