What Are the Side Effects of Colon Cleanse Pills?

The company that manufactures Colon Cleanse, Health Plus Inc. in California, suggests that detoxing the colon releases trapped toxins and absorbs water in the intestines. Go Ask Alice, Columbia University's health-education website, reports that using these supplements may reduce the risk for developing certain cancers and improving the immune system. Because the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbal supplements, it's difficult to determine the validity of these claims.

Bowls of various herbs (Image: baibaz/iStock/Getty Images)


Michael Picco, MD, a gastroenterologist from the Mayo Clinic indicates that dehydration is a big concern for people who use colon-cleansing supplements. Many of the herbs in colon detox products have laxative properties. Laxatives work by removing liquid from the intestines to make stool bulkier. To avoid this side effect, drink a lot of fluids, especially water.

The active ingredient in Colon Cleanse supplements is psyllium husk, which is used in a variety of over the counter laxatives including Metamucil and Serutan.

Electrolyte Imbalance

Colon cleanse pills can cause a rise in electrolytes, reports Dr. Picco. The Merck Manual indicates that the main electrolytes found in the blood are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate and carbonate. When water levels in the body changes due to laxatives, it can cause an electrolyte imbalance. The symptoms of an imbalance include muscle spasms, weakness, numbness, confusion, lethargy and a number of other mild to debilitating conditions.

Low Bacteria

The gut is home to a variety of good bacteria, including probiotics, flora and acidophilus. Supplements used to flush bacteria from the colon do not discriminate; they will eliminate bad bacteria as well as the good stuff. Good bacteria treat constipation and prevent the invasion of bad bacteria. In 2005, Johns Hopkins University released an article proclaiming that there is "a productive collaboration" with the bacteria in the colon. Without adequate amounts of good bacteria, there is a risk for developing a number of different health problems. In 2003, The Lancet published a report indicating that bacteria in the gut may be an essential factor in maintaining organ health and preventing colon cancer and other inflammatory bowel conditions.

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