You may have heard about colon cleansers, and even wondered whether you
might need one yourself.
According to some alternative health advocates, just as you routinely
shampoo your hair or scrub your floor, you should be regularly cleaning your
colon as well. In fact, some people are making a lot of money persuading people
that their colons are packed with several years' worth of decaying waste and
that a colon cleanser will solve the problem. Colon cleansers come in a variety
of forms, including capsules, laxatives, enemas, and "high colonics"
which flush large amounts of water through the intestines.
"Artificial colon cleansers are big business," says Melinda
Johnson, MS, RD, a registered dietitian based in Phoenix, Ariz., and a
spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. How big a business? Just
type "colon cleansers" into any search engine, and you"ll get an
But it turns out that, when taken to extremes, an obsession with inner
purification can be harmful.
WebMD consulted the experts to find out all about colon cleansers -- their
safety and effectiveness, and whether or not colon cleansing is for
Colon Cleansers: Dirty Business
Colon cleansing is based on the theory that waste collects in the colon over
time and stagnates there, causing toxins to form and spread throughout the body
-- a phenomenon known as "autointoxication." Many 19th century doctors
accepted autointoxication as fact. Although scientific research conducted as
early as the 1920s failed to confirm it, the misconception persists. Other
colon cleanser advocates insist that the accumulated stool blocks the colon,
preventing the proper elimination of waste.
But experts say there is no such thing as autointoxication, and that the
human body is actually very good at taking care of itself. Colon cleansing is
really a strange fad, says Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of nutrition at the American Council
on Science and Health in New York City. âThe body can cleanse itself quite
well. The kidneys and lungs remove toxins and by-products from the blood
stream, and regular bowel movements remove any waste products from the
gastrointestinal [GI] tract."
David L. Diehl, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at New York
University, and chief of gastrointestinal endoscopy at Bellevue Hospital
Center, agrees. "High colonics are often touted as a way to cleanse the
colon of 'adherent stool' that has been there for years or even decades,"
he says. "The problem with this concept is that there is no such thing. The
body does a good job of eliminating stool, and there are no 'pockets' in the
colon that collect stool for years. I do a colonoscopy every day of the week,
and a preprocedure purge is sufficient to clean out the stool and leave a
pristine looking colon."