Colon cleansing is claimed to improve health and digestion by flushing toxins and fecal matter out of the intestines. However, there is a lack of good quality evidence that supports the benefits of this practice — and certain cleansing methods may be harmful.
While a clean colon is necessary before a colonoscopy, in general the safest and most natural home remedy to promote colon health is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods, and to drink plenty of fluids.
Understand At-Home Cleansing Programs
Colon cleansing dates back to ancient times, popularized during an era when intestinal waste was believed to cause most health problems. Today colon cleansing is a trendy alternative remedy that claims to improve health by removing intestinal waste and toxins, using regimens that range from high-fiber diets or juicing to methods that clean out the bowels with herbs, laxatives or enemas.
Colon irrigation, or colon hydrotherapy, is an aggressive colon cleansing practice that introduces large amounts of fluid into the rectum and flushes out intestinal waste. Often performed in clinics, colon irrigation can also be done at home.
However, such aggressive colon cleansing practices have unclear benefits and can lead to a range of side effects that include diarrhea, dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, ruptured bowel, acute kidney damage and infection.
Cleanse Only When Prescribed
Cleaning out the colon before a colonoscopy is essential, however, and your doctor can guide you on how to safely do this at home. The purpose here is not to detox, or remove toxins, but to ensure the colon lining can be clearly visualized during the exam so your colon can be inspected for cancer or other abnormalities.
Prior to having a colonoscopy, your medical team will provide instructions on how to prepare. These directions involve consuming a clear liquid diet the day prior, and also drinking the prescribed amounts of laxatives to induce enough diarrhea to clean out the bowels.
Support Your Body's Natural Detox
If you think you need to detox or clean out your colon, don't lose sight of the fact that your body already has a system in place that removes toxins through urine, stool, sweat and via exhaled air. This natural detox system may need extra help, however, if your toxin load exceeds what your body can remove.
Fortunately, there are ways to naturally support your body's detox system. For example, drinking plenty of water helps flush these toxins out of your system. In addition, your body's detox processes work better if you're eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Reducing toxin exposure is also important, and one way to accomplish this is to minimize exposure to polluted air and tobacco smoke.
Eat Fiber and Drink Fluids
A diet rich in high-fiber foods and fluids promotes soft, bulky stools and regular bowel movements, and is arguably the best home remedy for enhancing the removal of waste from the colon. Fiber-filled foods such as fruit and vegetables are also rich in antioxidants and other plant chemicals which support the body's natural detoxification processes.
Aim to eat at least 2.5 cups of whole fruits and vegetables each day, and choose whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain bread, instead of low-fiber breads, grains and cereals. Include dried beans and peas most days and include a small amount of nuts and seeds daily.
Specific foods that can enhance the body's detox system include fermented foods, such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, and cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, kale and cauliflower. Drink according to your thirst and to keep your urine pale in color, which for most people means at least 8 cups of water or other fluids daily.
While it's beneficial to keep bowel movements regular and avoid constipation, there's no research to suggest colon cleansing is necessary for health. Of specific concern is how aggressive colon cleansing practices may disrupt the gut microbiome, including the health-promoting bacteria that line the colon.
In addition, colon cleansing can lead to diarrhea and dehydration — and in some cases, bowel perforation, infection and other serious health issues. If have questions about colon cleansing practices outside of moderately increasing fiber intake, speak with your doctor before trying these at home.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
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- American Family Physician: Colon Cleansing and Body Detoxification: Any Evidence of Benefit or Harm?
- The Journal of Family Practice: The Dangers of Colon Cleansing
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: What's the Deal With Detox Diets?
- The American Journal of Gastroenterology: Clinical Effects of Colonic Cleansing for General Health Promotion: A Systematic Review
- American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy:Understanding Bowel Preparation
- Global Healing Centers: Are Herbal Colon Cleansers Safe?