Colon cleansing is normally used as preparation for medical procedures such as colonoscopy. However, some alternative medicine practitioners also offer colon cleansing for other purposes, such as detoxification.
But colon cleansing — also called a colonic or a colonic irrigation — for such purposes isn't necessary. That's because your digestive system and bowel already eliminate waste material and bacteria from your body.
During a colon cleanse, large amounts of water — sometimes up to 16 gallons (about 60 liters) — and possibly other substances, such as herbs or coffee, are flushed through the colon. This is done using a tube that's inserted into the rectum. In some cases, smaller amounts of water are used and are left to sit in the colon for a short time before being removed.
Proponents of colon cleansing 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, boosting your energy and enhancing your immune system. However, there's no evidence that colon cleansing produces these effects.
And colon cleansing can sometimes be harmful. In fact, coffee enemas sometimes used in colon cleansing have been linked to several deaths. Colon cleansing can also cause less serious side effects, such as cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting.
Other concerns with colon cleansing are that it can:
- Increase your risk of dehydration
- Lead to bowel perforations
- Increase the risk of infection
- Cause changes in your electrolytes, which can be dangerous if you have kidney or heart disease or other health problems
If you choose to try colon cleansing, take these precautions:
March 25, 2015
- Check with your conventional medical providers first, especially if you take any medications or have any health problems, such as kidney or heart disease.
- Make sure your colon-cleansing practitioner uses disposable equipment that hasn't been previously used.
- Get a list of specific herbal ingredients and amounts in any colon-cleansing products you use — some ingredients can cause health problems.
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking lots of fluids while undergoing colon cleansing to prevent dehydration.
See more Expert Answers
- Colonic irrigation. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Jan. 19, 2015.
- Seow-Choen F. The physiology of colonic hydrotherapy. Colorectal Disease. 2009;11:686.
- Mishori R, et al. The dangers of colon cleansing. Journal of Family Practice. 2010;60:454.
- Acosta RD, et al. Clinical effects of colonic cleansing for general health promotion: A systematic review. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2009; 104:2830.
- Colon therapy. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/manualhealingandphysicaltouch/colon-therapy. Accessed Jan. 19, 2015.