Do You Need a Colon Cleanse?

You’ve seen the ads. But does your colon really need cleansing?

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
3-minute read
Episode #61

This week, I’m going to be talking about colon cleansing and detox regimens—something many of you have written to me about. Do you need to detox? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it?

Should You Believe the Claims About Detox Regimens?

If you spend any time at all online, you’ve probably seen ads for various detox and cleansing programs. If you’ve clicked on any of these ads, you may have read some really scary stuff about all the toxic sludge that’s lurking in your body and some really amazing stories about how fantastic you’ll feel when you cleanse your body of all these poisons.

But many of you are appropriately skeptical. Tiffany is wondering whether colon cleansing is healthy and Kristen wants to know how often one should do it. Melissa wonders if detoxing is really necessary. Frank is suspicious of the claims he’s seen for products in late night infomercials and James wants to know how to separate the facts from the marketing hype.

Let’s take a closer look at colon cleansing first. Next week, I’ll talk about more general detox programs.

Do You Need a Colon Cleanse?

Advocates of colon cleansing claim that, left to its own devices, the large intestine tends to fill up with sludge--sort of like a clogged drain pipe. That sludge supposedly contains toxins which poison the body. They claim that most people are carrying around several pounds of this toxic build-up, which can be eliminated with colon cleansing, bringing about a dramatic improvement in your health and well-being.

Most of the GI docs I’ve asked about this--people who spend their time looking around inside people’s colons--say that this is nonsense. The amount of material in the large intestine varies greatly from person to person and day to day. However, except in cases involving impaction or extreme constipation, nothing in your colon, including the cells lining it, has been in there for more than a few days.

Secondly, colon cleansing will not help you lose weight. Most of the calories and nutrients in the foods you eat have been digested and absorbed by the time food reaches your large intestine. The pound a day that some programs promise you’ll lose is mostly water. So, though a colon cleansing product may be very effective at flushing dollars from your wallet, it is not going to flush fat from your body. Sorry.

Thirdly, cleansing does not necessarily enhance the health of the colon. Most colon cleanse programs are basically laxatives, administered from one end or the other. Taking laxatives, especially if you’re not constipated, isn’t a great idea. They can disrupt fluid and electrolyte balance and piss off the beneficial bacteria in your intestines. Regular use of laxatives can also, ironically, make you constipated.

The Scientific Evidence on Colon Cleansing

Now, let’s take a look at the scientific evidence that colon cleansing enhances mental clarity, immune function, complexion, arthritis, allergies, and energy levels. Oh, right. There isn’t any. 

So why do people report such miraculous results after cleansing their colons? It may also be partly psychological. If you’ve ever had abdominal surgery or a colonoscopy, you’ve cleansed your colon. Did it make you feel like a new person? Probably not, but then again, you probably weren’t expecting it to.

How to Improve Colon Health

If you really want to improve the health of your colon, here’s what I would recommend:

Instead of periodically taking extreme measures to “cleanse” your colon, adopt habits that promote colon health on an ongoing basis.

1. Eat more fiber and drink more water. As I explained in episode #46 on constipation, this combination helps to bulk up your stool and decrease the amount of time that waste spends in your gut.

2. Eat yogurt or other foods containing beneficial bacteria on a regular basis. In episode #4, on fermented foods, I talked about how these friendly flora help improve digestion, bolster immune function, and maintain the health of your colon.

3. Finally, if you like the idea of a cleaner colon, eat less junk. I mean, how do you think that stuff gets in there, anyway?

That’s my take on colon cleansing. Next week, I’ll talk more about programs and products that are designed to detox your liver, kidneys, and other organs.


Post your comments and questions on my Facebook page or Twitter!

Have a great day and eat something good for me!


Gastrointestinal Quackery Steve Barrett, MD for Quackwatch

How Clean Should Your Colon Be? American Council on Science and Health