Colon Cleansing Could Cause More Harm Than Good

Considering a colon cleanse? You may want to think twice. According to a report published in the August 2011 issue of The Journal of Family Practice, colon cleansing can do more harm than good.

Researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C, analyzed 20 studies and found no evidence to support the purported benefits of colon cleansing. What they found, however, was evidence of the practice's many adverse effects.

The colon cleanse trend is not new, but has recently enjoyed a resurgence thanks to celebrity endorsements and anecdotal claims that it "improves the immune and circulatory systems, enhances cognitive abilities, and aids in weight loss through 'detoxification.'"

However, study author, Ranit Mishori, M.D. Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C., stresses that the human body doesn't need help to detoxify. Those are the functions of bowel movements and urination. "A colon cleanse is not necessary if you're healthy; and if you are sick, it may cause further complications," she says.

According to the report, a history of gastrointestinal disease (including diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis), a history of colon surgery, severe hemorrhoids, kidney disease, or heart disease may increase the risk of adverse effects.

The dangers of colon cleansingrange from mild to severe. Side effects reported in the study include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, acute kidney insufficiency, pancreatitis, bowel perforation, heart failure, and infection.

What is Colon Cleansing?

There are two methods for colon cleansing:

Supplements can be taken orally or inserted into the rectum. These include products such as laxatives, powders, capsules, and teas. "They induce diarrhea, which...[can] cause a loss of electrolytes, creating an imbalance which affects heart function," explains Mishori.

"Colon hydrotherapy (also called colonic irrigation) is a souped-up enema which calls for a large amount of fluid-up  to 60 liters-to be inserted into the rectum via tube," explains Mishori. (Waste products are expelled through another tube.) This can be done at home using kits purchased over-the-counter, on-line, or it could be done at a spa or clinic by a "hydrotherapist" or "colon hygienist."

In addition to the side effects listed above, there's another aspect that invites problems: the practice is unregulated. Researchers warn that not only are colon cleanse practitioners not licensed by a scientifically-based organization, the devices used in colon cleansing are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).




Ranit Mishori, M.D. Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.