Are Colon Cleansers Safe?

Reviewed on 9/14/2021

What is colon cleansing?

Experts say there's little scientific research to show that colon cleansers actually work or are safe.
Experts say there's little scientific research to show that colon cleansers actually work or are safe.

Colon cleansing dates back to ancient times. It's recently become popular. But is it safe for you?

Your colon is also known as your large intestine or large bowel. Part of your digestive system, it breaks down food and moves waste to your rectum.

Colon cleansing is usually done to prepare for medical procedures such as a colonoscopy. But some alternative medicine practitioners say that colon cleansing can detoxify your body.

Colon cleansing can be done using colon-cleansing products or colonic irrigation (colonic hydrotherapy).

In colonic irrigation, up to 60 liters of fluid is pumped through your rectum via a tube. This is repeated several times. This is not like an enema, which runs a much smaller amount of fluid one time into your colon.

A colon cleanse is also not the same as a colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, your doctor examines your colon to check for abnormalities, and screens for colon cancer. A long, flexible tube called a colonoscope is inserted into your rectum. This contains a tiny camera so your doctor can see the inside of your colon.

What are colon cleansers?

Colon cleansing products come in different forms. There are powders, teas, capsules, and laxatives. Some are taken orally, others inserted into your rectum. Many colon cleansers may contain:

These colon cleansing products are often marketed as a way to:

But experts say there’s little scientific research to show that colon cleansers actually have such benefits.

Colon cleansers: are they safe?

Colon cleansing products are less invasive than colonic irrigation. But even these colon cleansers are not safe. They may have side effects such as:

The FDA and Federal Trade Commission say that some colon cleansers are not safe for you. They have taken action against some companies selling cleansing and detox products. Some products have potentially harmful or illegal ingredients. Other products were marketed with false claims to cure serious diseases.

Colonic irrigation involves even more risks. If equipment isn’t sterilized properly, infections can pass from patient to patient. Other risks include:

Some herbs used in colon cleanses have also been linked to liver toxicity and aplastic anemia.

There have also been case reports of serious complications such as:

The FDA hasn’t approved any devices for non-medical colon cleansing. It also doesn’t regulate additives used for colon cleansing.

Colon cleansing is riskier in people with a history of:

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How your body naturally detoxifies

Toxins can get into your body when you breathe, eat, drink, or through your skin. Toxins are also made in your body during metabolism. These toxins are transformed and removed from your body when you:

  • Sweat
  • Urinate
  • Defecate (pass stools)
  • Breathe

Also, not all bacteria are bad. Your gastrointestinal system needs beneficial bacteria for digestion. Colon cleansing can disturb the balance of good bacteria and cause more problems down the road.

Precautions to take

If you’re still interested in doing a colon cleanse, talk to your doctor about it. This is important if you have any health conditions or take medications.

Here are other precautions to take before a colon cleanse:

  • Know what herbs and additives are used.
  • Drink water before and after.
  • If you’re doing colonic hydrotherapy, make sure your practitioner uses disposable equipment.
  • Consider improving your colon health naturally instead

How to improve your colon health

Try these ways to improve your colon health instead:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat five to nine servings of vegetables and fruit every day
  • Eat a high-fiber diet to keep your bowels regular
  • Eat berries, garlic, onions, leeks, green tea, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
  • Avoid red meat.
  • Eat naturally fermented foods to boost your gut health. These include kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol use have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Get regular colonoscopies to identify and remove any precancerous polyps.

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References
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; "What's the Deal with Detox Diets?"

American College of Gastroenterology: "Colonoscopy."

American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons: "The Colon: What it is, What it Does and Why it is Important."

The Journal of Family Practice: "The dangers of colon cleansing."

The Journal of Lancaster General Hospital: "Colon Cleansing: Medical Breakthrough or Myth?"

Keck Medicine of USC: "Is Colon Cleansing Dangerous?"

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Detoxes and Cleanses: What You Need To Know."

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