Colon cleansers have become a trendy and alternative remedy to ridding your colon of waste and toxins. Despite their growing popularity, there is little scientific evidence supporting the use of colon cleansing therapies and gut cleanses.
Colon cleansing routines are used to improve the success of a colonoscopy, a medical procedure allowing doctors to investigate your large intestine. Yet, some alternative practitioners claim that giving your bowels a good washout is good for detoxification, as well as boosting your energy.
Table of contents
- What is colon cleansing?
- Colonic irrigation benefits, risks and medical reasons
- Gut microbiome and colonic irrigation
- Do you need a colon cleanse drink?
- How to cleanse your colon? Don't.
- Colon cleanse diet: it's common sense
- Summary: is colonic irrigation good for you?
The human body is much smarter than these practitioners give it credit for, because it already has its own systems in place which keep your colon in tip-top condition. In other words, colon cleanses are not that necessary because your digestive system already works hard to preserve itself by eliminating harmful waste, toxins, and bacteria from itself.
What is colon cleansing?
You may or may not have heard of it, but there are several colon cleansing methods. Some require a professional, others are DIY, but whether it’s necessary is a hotly debated topic.
Generally, colon cleansing refers to colonic irrigation or hydrotherapy, a process where the large intestine is flushed out with a water-based liquid to remove waste. The method has been around for centuries and it requires a qualified practitioner! For some reason, DIY and self-administered cleanses are on the rise. Yet, the safety and necessity of these are often called into question.
Intestinal cleanse methods
- colonic irrigation
- juice or tea diets
- colon cleanse pills
Bowel cleanse enemas
An enema is a procedure where liquids, or even gas, are injected into the lower colon via the anus to remove contents like waste, but it’s not the same as colonic irrigation.
There is a distinct difference between colonic irrigation and enemas: enemas can be self-administered at home without any medical advice. For this reason alone, this DIY gut cleanse method is problematic, not least because the internet is full of weird and dangerous information.
Plus, there are risks associated with, let’s say, less conventional enemas. Coffee enemas are known to cause rectal burns (ouch!), electrolyte imbalances and, in severe cases, even death. Other enemas include wheatgrass (questionable) and garlic, which is purportedly useful for pinworms.
Historically, there were even smoke enemas used as a resuscitation method for victims of drowning, which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase blowing smoke up ones insert appropriate word here. So, as you can see, humans don’t lack imagination when it comes to injecting substances into their nether regions.
Enemas are not all bad, because they can be used to treat medical conditions like constipation, but only using medically approved liquid solutions. So, online advice using all sorts of weird and wacky concoctions is a no-go. Therefore, you should never attempt DIY colonic irrigation, your bowel is too precious!
Colonic irrigation benefits, risks and medical applications
Flushing out your colon with water is an age-old practice in many cultures, dating back to 1,500 BC in Ancient Egypt. Today, it’s used to improve the success of colonoscopies.
Colon cleansing practitioners claim that the procedure has many benefits, like aiding weight loss, improving digestion, and even increasing your energy levels. However, these health benefits are unfounded and have little scientific evidence to back them up.
Instead, it can have several uncomfortable side effects, some can be pretty mild while others can be quite severe. In some cases, herbal remedies are added to the flushing water and this has been known to cause a type of anaemia which stops your bone marrow from producing enough blood cells. These remedies have been known to cause liver issues, too.
Potential colonic hydrotherapy benefits vs risks
|Health benefits||Harmful effects|
|waste and toxin removal||dehydration|
|increased energy,||electrolyte imbalances|
|aids weight loss||bloating, nausea|
|relieves cramping||diarrhoea, sore anus|
|relieves bloating and gas||cramping|
|boosts immune system||punctured bowel|
|improves liver function||major organ failures|
|lowers colon cancer risk||increased risk of infection and pancreatitis|
Medical purposes of colon cleansing
Although some of the health benefits are unfounded, some research suggests that a new type of colonic irrigation may improve some of the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, like cramping, diarrhoea, and constipation. Participants in the study were also more satisfied with their bowel movements after the procedure.
Importantly, a gut cleanse should only be recommended by a health professional and it is usually in preparation for diagnostic and surgical colon procedures. Typically, it’s used in preparation for a colonoscopy and requires the patient to drink large amounts of a liquid that causes defecation, after which the patient follows a short liquid diet until the procedure is performed.
A colonoscopy is a medical exam used to detect changes in the large intestine and the rectum, (where the bowel meets the anus). It helps to diagnose conditions which may be affecting the bowel like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and colon cancer. A clean bowel means doctors will be able to spot signs easier and more confidently.
What is a colon cleanse that’s not for medical purposes?
Colon cleansing, colonic irrigation, colonic hydrotherapy, and a colonic are all the same thing. They involve around 60 litres of water being passed through your bowel via a tube inserted into your anus, it circulates your bowel and waste products leave via another tube.
As you can see, this is very different to what doctors prescribe for medical procedures. If you’re considering spending your money on a colon cleanse that doesn’t have a medical purpose, it’s worth remembering that doctors don’t prescribe colon cleanses, even when they have to perform a colonoscopy.
Gut microbiome and colonic irrigation
Your gut isn’t just an organ dedicated to evacuating waste, toxins, and pathogens, it’s home to trillions of health-promoting bacteria. They take the dietary fibre you eat and transform it into organic compounds, like short-chain fatty acids and vitamins, which have important roles in your digestive tract and overall health.
It was even shown to lower the abundance of specific probiotic bacteria, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, that perform essential functions to keep your gut environment happy and balanced. They help maintain the right pH, deter pathogens, and maintain an ecosystem that is welcoming to other essential and beneficial bacteria.
☝FACT☝Healthy individuals shouldn’t need to cleanse their colon with extreme methods because the body has its own ways of keeping itself clean on the inside.
Do you need a colon cleanse drink?
You’ve probably seen them advertised on social media or online outlets, but are these colon cleansing at-home drinks really necessary?
Colon cleanse drinks come in an array of colours and ingredients. They’re easy to get your hands on online and are delivered in ready-made preparations, usually consisting of fruit and veg juices. Alternatively, they may come as a tea-tox, you’ve guessed it, a tea diet which acts as a colon detox.
These products are often expensive and usually work by having a laxative effect. So, these are not really recommended if you’re not in close vicinity to a loo. Plus, they can cause side effects too, like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and can reduce the effects of the oral contraceptive pill (ladies!).
And, there’s little scientific evidence that they’re effective at removing toxins from the colon. In fact, a 2015 review found that there was no definitive evidence supporting the use of detox diets for both weight loss or the elimination of toxins from the human body.
How to cleanse your colon?
You might be tempted to give your bowel a spring clean every now and then, but resisting the urge of extreme cleansing methods could actually be better for you.
To be frank, there is really no reason for you to “clean” your gut with colon cleanse products. That’s because your body has clever ways of keeping itself clean and free of toxins. Your liver is the main detoxification hub in your body.
Blood flows from the digestive organs and into the liver via the portal vein. At this stage, it carries nutrients, as well as toxins, which are processed, changed, stored, detoxified, and then either passed back into the blood to be used by the body, or into the bowel where they’re removed from the body via your stools. Clever, right?
Because your body has mechanisms in place to rid itself of harmful substances, forking out on an expensive detox colon cleanse probably isn’t going to bring you many benefits. Instead, eating the right foods to support your gut microbiome and your wider health is more important.
☝FACT☝Your liver is vital for your health because it can convert some toxic substances into harmless ones and make sure others are removed from the body altogether.
Colon cleanse diet
Some types of fibre also nourish your gut bacteria too, particularly prebiotic fibres. These are often found in plant-based foods and provide your microbes with nourishment, transforming them into beneficial substances which support your gut, immune system, and whole-body health.
Physical activity is also a positive lifestyle choice which has colonic benefits. That’s because exercise increases gastrointestinal motility, the time it takes food to move through your body by the digestive system. By speeding up the process, your colon is exposed to harmful toxins for a shorter time and reduces the risk of diseases like colon cancer.
☝FACT☝How to cleanse your gut: eat the right foods, particularly fibre, stay hydrated, and take part in aerobic exercise like jogging, walking, swimming, or dancing.
Summary: is colonic irrigation good for you?
You may have been looking at “how to clean my colon”, but unless you have been advised by a medical professional that you need to do so, then there probably is no need to. Your body is a well-oiled machine which has its own colon cleanser in the form of your liver and dietary processes.
The benefits of colonic irrigation are highly debatable and mainly rely on good marketing to sell it as a weight loss solution. Remember, colonic irrigation at home is a no-go because it is dangerous, and if doctors don’t prescribe, should you really be doing it?
Home colonic methods like enemas you’ll find online can have all kinds of weird and wacky concoctions with little or no scientific evidence. The same is true of colonic treatments like detox or juice diets. If you’re looking for the best colon cleanse, then simply eating real food, including plant-based sources, and exercising regularly can keep your colon ship shape!
- Baghbani, K et al. Comparison of Two Different Methods of Colon Cleansing for Afternoon-Colonoscopy, 2014
- Farrell, R. “Blowing Smoke Up One’s…” – The Bizarre Use of Tobacco Smoke Enemas, 2018
- Hsu, H, H et al. Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome with a Novel Colonic Irrigation System: A Pilot Study, 2016
- Informed Health. How Does the Liver Work?, 2016
- Kim, Y, S et al. Aerobic Exercise Improves Gastrointestinal Motility in Psychiatric Patients, 2014
- Klein, A, V and Kiat, H. Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence, 2014
- National Health Service. Why it’s done: Colonoscopy, 2019
- Teekachunhatean, S et al. Pharmacokinetics of Caffeine Following a Single Administration of Coffee Enema versus Oral Coffee Consumption in Healthy Male Subjects, 2013
- Toledo, T, K and Dipalma, J, A. Review Article: Colon Cleansing Preparation for Gastrointestinal Procedures, 2000
- Uchiyama-Tanaka, Y. The Influence of Colonic Irrigation on Human Intestinal Microbiota, 2012