Colon cleanses go by many names: colonic treatment, hydro colon therapy, colonic irrigation and colon detox. No matter what you call it, this treatment is used by many as a means to flush out the colon with the intent to improve health.
What Is a Colon Cleanse?
The practice of colon cleansing has been around for thousands of years. Your colon’s job is to remove water, salt and nutrients from your food and it plays a fundamental part in the digestive process. The remaining solid waste forms stool, and the colon moves the stool along its walls to be expelled.
Some folks see colon flushing as a way to remove excess toxins or waste that may be stuck to colon walls. Colon cleanse treatments are normally used to prepare for medical procedures like a colonoscopy. Colon cleanses are not a replacement for colonoscopy screenings and regular screenings are still needed with your doctor — especially as you age.
How Does a Colon Cleanse Work?
A colonic hygienist inserts a tube into the rectum while you lie on a table. A large amount of water (up to 60 liters) is flushed through the colon via this tube. Sometimes, small amounts of water are left to sit in the colon for a little while before being removed by the practitioner.
There are some types of colon cleanses that use other substances, like coffee or herbs, to flush out the colon. The price point for colon treatment procedures generally hover around the $100 range.
The Goal of a Colon Cleanse
Alternative medicine practitioners recommend colon cleanses for purposes like detoxification. They believe that this process removes toxins and harmful substances like mucus and dry stool, as well as encourages weight loss, boosts energy, relieves constipation and enhances the immune system.
These types of practitioners believe that toxins in your gastrointestinal tract can lead to a selection of health problems like arthritis, allergies, asthma or high blood pressure. The presumed health benefits are not proven and there is no evidence that cleansing is beneficial at all — there is no scientific proof to back up any of these claims.
Is a Colon Cleanse Safe or Dangerous?
Colon cleanses can be harmful and there is added risk when doing these treatments in a non-medical setting. Cleansing can lead to cramping, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting; in severe cases, coffee enemas have been linked to a few deaths.
No data suggests that colon cleanses are beneficial or healthy, but if you want to try a colon cleanse talk to your doctor first to understand all the risks.
Risks of Colon Cleanses
Regular colon cleansing can cause serious harm. Colon cleansing changes your microflora — the healthy bacteria that helps protect your body from infections. Instead of removing toxins with a colon cleanse, you may be removing the bacteria that help keep you healthy.
There are concerns that cleansing can potentially lead to dehydration, a tear in the rectum, infection, a change in electrolyte balance and more. Other possible side effects include dizziness, dehydration, kidney damage, and depletion of probiotics, sodium and potassium.
Other Colon Cleansing Methods
There are other colon cleansing options that you can use instead of hydro colon therapy. Two alternatives are:
- Taking bowel-clearing laxatives, powders or supplements
- Using enemas
Natural Colon Cleansing Methods
- Drinking water is one of the safest ways to naturally cleanse the colon since water facilitates passage of waste through the colon
- Raw fruit and vegetable juices have fiber, plant chemicals and natural sugars, which act as laxatives
- Fiber adds bulk to stool and increases bowel movements. Add fiber to your diet through nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, etc.
- Fermented foods contain higher levels of probiotics, which contribute to overall gut health. Get more probiotics by consuming yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kefir, kimchi and more
- Resistant starches remain mostly undigested and become bulk in the stool and stimulate the bowel to spring into action. These foods include potatoes, sugar beets, sweet corn, rice, white bread, etc.
- Lemon juice is high in vitamin C and may be an effective natural colon cleanser
- Some herbal teas aid in digestion, like ginger or lemon tea
The digestive system and bowel eliminate waste, toxins and bacteria from your body, so hydro colon cleanses aren’t really necessary. The human body comes equipped with the liver and kidneys, whose job is to filter and eliminate harmful substances from the body.
Some medical professionals have expressed that the only time you should clean your colon is in preparation for a medical procedure.
You can improve your colon health by:
- Switching to a plant-based diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans
- Limiting consumption of red meat and switching to chicken, fish, tofu or dairy foods instead
- Avoiding processed meats and opting for baked poultry, beans, legumes or soy
- Taking a screening exam to scan for colon or rectal cancer; you should see your doctor regularly for colonoscopies starting at age 45
- Limiting alcohol
- Avoiding tobacco
- Exercising at least three times a week
- Maintaining a healthy weight as a higher percentage of body fat puts you at a greater risk for colon cancer
While research does not support the need for colon cleanses outside of preparing for a medical procedure, some folks still feel like there are benefits to the treatment. If you decide that you want a colon cleanse to enhance your overall feeling of health, make sure you do your research to find a facility with a proven track record.