Colon cleansing is normally used as preparation for medical procedures such as a colonoscopy. However, some alternative medicine practitioners 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 and high blood pressure. 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 or is beneficial at all.
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, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Other potential concerns with colon cleansing include:
- A tear in the rectum (perforation)
- A change in your electrolyte balance, 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:
- Check with your conventional medical provider first, especially if you take any medications or have any health problems, such as kidney or heart disease.
- Make sure your colon-cleansing practitioner is reputable and 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.
May 24, 2022
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more Expert Answers
- Colonic irrigation. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed March 31, 2018.
- Detoxes and cleanses. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/detoxes-cleanses. Accessed March 29, 2018.
- Mishori R, et al. The dangers of colon cleansing. Journal of Family Practice. 2011;60:454.
- Bazzocchi G, et al. Irrigation, lavage, colonic hydrotherapy: From beauty center to clinic? Techniques in Coloproctology. 2017;21:1.