Colon cleansing: remedy or health hazard?



  • There has been a lot of hype about colon cleansing lately. There are those who claim that cleansing the colon can help prevent and cure a wide range of conditions from acne to acid reflux and arthritis, from allergies to asthma and colon cancer. Colon cleansing, too, has become a very popular way of losing weight. Health experts, however, warn against these claims which are not supported by scientific proof.

What is the use of our colon?

Our colon is an important part of gastrointestinal tract, specifically the lower part of the large intestine. It plays a key role in the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals and elimination of unnecessary and even toxic waste products.

How does colon cleansing work?

  • Colon cleansing advocates believe it to be a good detox program that removes body pollution.
  • Colon cleansing supposedly induces rapid weight loss by getting rid of water and stool in a short period of time.

Colon cleansing comes in different forms. Colonic irrigation or colon hydrotherapy entails infusion of water through the rectum into the colon. Some colon cleansing regimens use laxatives.

What are the health risks of colon cleansing?

  • Colon emptying as part of cleansing regimen can cause dehydration as well as loss of essential electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium which are necessary for optimal function of nerves and muscles.
  • Colon cleansing can disrupt the natural flora (e.g. bacteria) of the gut that helps in digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Although many regimens claim to use natural laxatives, some of these may actually contain harmful substances, such as sodium phosphate which can cause kidney damage and cardiac effects.

According to Dr. John R. Stroehlein, professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition:

“Colon cleansing has been around for a long time, yet no evidence exists that it prevents disease or improves health.”

Does colon cleansing prevent colon cancer?

Lately, there have been claims that colon cleansing can prevent colon cancer. This is, however, a big misconception, according to cancer experts. This misconception is due to the fact that colon cleansing is prescribed as part of preparation for colonoscopy when screening for colon cancer. However, there is no beneficial effect whatsoever in the development of the disease.

Dr. Stroehlein, instead, explains the right way to prevent colon cancer.

“My take-home advice to help prevent colon cancer – and many other cancers – is to follow guidelines about periodic screening, particularly after age 50; eat a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and fiber; get regular exercise; use alcohol in moderation; and definitely do not smoke.”

Mayo Clinic experts give us the following precautionary tips:

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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