It’s that time of year again everyone. That’s right; spring is rolling in, and it’s bringing a lot of implications with it. Culturally, spring is a time to introduce ourselves to new things and to refresh the old. One common tradition is to clean all of the old junk you have stored in your home in the past year, but some people go a little deeper with their cleaning. I am sure that most of us have heard about colon detoxification (also called hydrotherapy, colon cleansing or colonic irrigation) and all of the wonderful health benefits that it is supposed to have, but should you believe the hype? Since this is often a mystifying subject, I will help shed light on the good, the bad and the truth about colonic detoxification.
History of Detoxification
Colon cleansing is a technique that has picked up popularity since the turn of the century, even though it has roots that go back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptians thought feces was impure and could taint the body if it lingered for too long, so they regularly cleaned their colons. This idea caught on in the early 1900s as “autointoxication,” and doctors proposed that dangerous toxins would be reabsorbed into the body if fecal matter was left unchecked to accumulate on the walls of the colon (Source: American Cancer Society). This way of thinking still fuels contemporary proponents of colonic cleansing.
Those who push colon detoxing claim that it has significant benefits to overall health covering a wide range of illnesses such as: general aches and pains, obesity, constipation, low sex drive, cancer, skin problems and even bad breath. The problem with these claims is that there are never any citations or evidence to back them up. Most scientific studies that have been done on colon cleansing have shown it to have little or no effects on overall health and that the colon naturally gets rid of toxins. Only the nutrients are absorbed from digested food, and most of this absorption happens in the small intestine, meaning that cleaning the colon (large intestine) would do nothing to stop these “toxins” from entering the blood (Source: Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology). What’s even worse is that frequent, extreme or poorly administered detoxifications can have a negative impact on the body, causing conditions like abdominal pain, vomiting, renal failure, rectal perforations (tears) and even death (Source: American Cancer Society, Journal of Family Practice). In short, the notion that colon detoxification is some kind of miracle treatment should be heavily disregarded.
Limited Usefulness of Colon Detoxification
The fact that colon detoxification cannot cure every disease known to man does not, however, mean that the practice should be abandoned. One very good benefit of colon cleansing is that it does in fact clean out the colon in a pleasant manner, which is more than can be said for some other methods for cleaning the walls of the colon. This function is especially important when it comes to preparing for a colonoscopy. Some gastroenterologists have recognized colon hydrotherapy as an option for prepping for a colonoscopy and have done studies comparing it to traditional prep (Source: Danbury Hospital, Carla Roter RPN). The results of these studies seem to show that colon hydrotherapy does an effective job of clearing the walls of the colon about 98 percent of the time, making it easy for doctors to see polyps that may be lining the walls of the colon (Source: Dotolo Research Corp). Also, many patients prefer colon hydrotherapy over traditional prep; in one study only 2 percent of patients were dissatisfied with hydrotherapy as opposed to approximately 50 percent who had traditional preps (Source: Internal Medicine News).
So as you can see, you don’t need colon cleansing to get rid of “toxins” in your body, but you may want to ask your gastroenterologist about hydrotherapy as a more relaxing way to prepare for your colonoscopy.