Should You Clean Out Your Colon?

I just came across a very interesting article in the Journal of Family Practice about the recent comeback of an oldie-but-goodie “natural” health fad – colon cleansing.  

Colon cleansing is based on the premise that waste products in your colon (i.e. poop) contain toxins that poison your body and need to be flushed out of your system.  It can be self-administerered or performed by a “colonic hydrotherapist” who will sometimes throw in some herbs and spices, including coffee, to enhance it’s “naturalness”. 

So… how shall I approach this topic in a calm, measured manner…

First of all, there is nothing “natural” about having someone stick a garden hose up your butt and dumping up to 60 LITERS of fluid into it!  Second of all, your colon is supposed to be full of poop!  Proponents will show you pictures of what they flush out as evidence of its effectiveness (that is one Google image search you want no part of), but it means absolutely nothing.  It’s like someone pointing inside your trash can to show you how filthy your house is.  It’s ridiculous!

Here’s what you need to know about colon cleansing:

  • There is NO evidence that it has any health benefits whatsoever
  • There IS evidence that it can be very dangerous, especially if you have a history of gastro-intestinal problems.  See the above article if you don’t believe me.
  • There are some organizations with scientific-ish sounding names like the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy (NBCH) or the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy (I-ACT), but colon cleansing “practitioners” are NOT licensed by any medical or scientific organization.  The only requirements for membership are a high school degree, 3 semesters of postsecondary education and CPR certification.  
  • None of the equipment or ingredients used in colonic cleansing have been approved by the FDA, which means there is NO proof that they do anything or are safe.  Some of the herbal supplements have been associated with liver damage and aplastic anemia.

I respect the fact people have different belief systems when it comes to their health, and that there are many valuable forms of health care outside the realm of traditional medical practice.  In fact, there is a center for Integrative Medicine right here on campus that I often refer people to.  But colonic cleansing represents a point where a worldview can become a threat to your safety.  It’s best to steer clear of it.

If you are having any problems with your stomach or intestines, come in and see us – we’re glad to help you figure out what’s going on.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

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