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The News

Colon cleansing has been described as a natural way to enhance well-being, but Georgetown University doctors say there’s no evidence to back that claim. In fact, their review of scientific literature, published August 1 in the August issue of The Journal of Family Practice, demonstrates that colon cleansing can cause side effects ranging from cramping to renal failure and death.

Total bogus

The procedure, sometimes called colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy, often involves use of chemicals followed by flushing the colon with water through a tube inserted in the rectum. It has ancient roots, and was discredited by the American Medical Association in the early 1900s.

There can be serious consequences for those who engage in colon cleansing whether they have the procedure done at a spa or perform it at home,

says the paper’s lead author, Ranit Mishori, M.D., a family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Colon cleansing products in the form of laxatives, teas, powders and capsules with names such as Nature’s Bounty Colon Cleaner tout benefits that don’t exist.

She also says it’s important to remember the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no authority to monitor these products.

Mishori and her colleagues examined 20 studies published in the medical literature published in the last decade. She says that while these reports show little evidence of benefit, there is an abundance of studies noting side effects following the use of cleansing products including cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance and renal failure.

Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity

And Mishori points out that colon cleansing services are increasingly being offered at spas or clinics by practitioners who call themselves ‘colon hygienists’ but they have no significant medical training. In fact, organizations such as the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy and others who promote colon cleansing require hygienists to have little more than a high school diploma.

Mishori says there are much better ways to enhance well-being:

Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get six to eight hours of sleep and see a doctor regularly.

The Science

Although doctors prescribe colon cleansing as preparation for medical procedures such as colonoscopy, most don’t recommend colon cleansing for detoxification. Their reasoning is simple: Your digestive system and bowel naturally eliminate waste material and bacteria — your body doesn’t need colon cleansing to do this.

In fact, colon cleansing can sometimes be harmful. The main concerns with colon cleansing are that it can:

  • Increase your risk of dehydration
  • Lead to bowel perforations
  • Increase the risk of infection
  • Cause a rise in your electrolytes, which can be dangerous if you have kidney disease or heart disease

Proponents of colon cleansing, on the other hand, believe that toxins from your gastrointestinal tract can cause a variety of health problems, such as arthritis, allergies and asthma. They believe that colon cleansing improves health by removing toxins, promoting healthy intestinal bacteria, boosting your energy and enhancing your immune system. Colon cleansing is also promoted as treatment for cancer and numerous other conditions.

It should be noted that none of these claimed effects have any scientific evidence to support them.

My Opinion

One of the perils of the “all-natural” movement that our society is now steeped in, in fact the main peril, is that of the naturalistic fallacy.

The naturalistic fallacy is the assumption that anything that is “natural” or “organic” is always better than the alternative.

An offshoot of this fallacy is that of natural remedies that aim to be “alternatives” to more conventional medicine, because, proponents assume, any natural treatment must be better. This is the case with colon cleansing. Instead of trusting their health to modern medicine, advocates of this natural ideology must seek treatment outside of what science considers helpful or feasible. Naturopaths frequently claim the the cure to many of the body’s ailments is found in “detoxification”. This can range from “detox food pads” to “chelation therapy”, with the latter focusing on removing heavy metals from the body (although the therapies do no such thing).

The problem is that detoxification doesn’t work. Other than your kidneys and liver, which naturally detoxify the body, there is not any feasible mechanism that removes toxins from your body. You can’t suck toxins out of the bottom of your feet and you can’t flush your colon with chemicals to remove disease and improve wellness.

Although the natural approach may be seductive to some, this approach chronically lacks application of real medical knowledge. Students of practices like colon cleansing aren’t taught how the body actually works, instead they rely on guess-work and assumption, letting a confused intuition about health preclude any medical efficacy.

We now have the studies that show there is no health benefit from colon cleansing and that it is potentially dangerous. Are you willing to suspend the knowledge of modern medicine from some that is “natural”, but does not work or aid healing.

When searching for bogus health claims, a big red flag is a grandiose claim without evidence to back it up. Here’s a red flag: colon cleansing proponents claim that it can help treat cancer. Such an extraordinary claim without equally extraordinary evidence is meaningless.

Unfortunately for naturopaths, this is just another “alternative” treatment that does not work (as it increasingly seems that none actually do).


Story Source:

From materials provided by Georgetown University Medical Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ranit Mishori, Aye Otubu, Aminah Alleyne Jones. Colon cleansing—a dangerous practice returns. The Journal of Family Practice, August 2011
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