Is a colon cleanse safe? NO. That is, according to three physicians from the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington DC, who reviewed 21 peer-reviewed studies on colon cleansing done over the past 15 years.
What’s worse, the doctors say that not only is there absolutely no evidence to back up the touted benefits of colon cleansing, but the practice even poses many serious health risks, including aplastic anemia, liver toxicity, renal failure and death.
“Despite colon cleansing’s long history and current popularity, the literature does not support its purported benefits,” said doctors Ranit Mishori, Aye Otubu and Aminah Alleyne Jones in their review, published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Family Practice (JFP). JFP is the source of medical research and information favored by practicing family physicians, family medicine researchers and other primary care clinicians for the past 40 years.
Also called colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy, colon cleansing involves flushing reportedly toxins from the colon with plain water or a ‘cleansing’ solution pumped through a tube and inserted through the rectum. Teas, powders, laxatives, various herbs and other compounds, even coffee, are used as part of the ‘cleansing’ solution.
The procedure works like an enema, but unlike enemas that use a small amount of fluid, colon cleansing involves large amounts of fluid — even up to 60 liters — introduced through the rectum, the doctors say. This is expelled together with wastes through another tube, and the procedure may even be repeated several times.
Colon cleanses can be self-administered using a variety of home kits sold on the market today or performed by practitioners called ‘colonic hygienists’ or ‘colon therapists,’ all of whom, the doctors note in their JFP article, are unlicensed. Some practitioners may belong to professional groups like the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy (NBCH) or the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy (I-ACT) but these organizations require little more than a three-month training on top of a high-school diploma for practitioners, the doctors also say.
No evidence for benefits
Colon cleanses, practiced in ancient times, has experienced a resurgence in modern times, following a rising demand for “natural” and alternative healing practices and after being hyped as a “natural” way to improve health.
The practice, as well as many colon cleanse products, are widely advertised on the Internet, newspapers and magazines as a remedy to alleviate fatigue, headache and low energy, the JFP article notes. Marketers also claim that the colon cleanses may improve the immune and circulatory systems, enhance cognitive abilities, and aid weight loss through “detoxification,” the article says.
But the doctors point out that their search of medical literature “yielded no scientifically robust studies in support of this practice.” The search was done using the terms using the terms “colon cleansing,” “herbal colon cleanse,” “colon detoxification,” and “colon irrigation.”
Dangers of colon cleansing
Instead, the doctors found many dangers of colon cleansing: “Most reports in the literature note a variety of adverse effects of colon cleansing that range from mild—cramping, abdominal pain, fullness, bloating, nausea, vomiting, perianal irritation, and soreness—to severe—electrolyte imbalance and renal failure,” the doctors said.
“Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity,” they said.
Case reports also show that colon cleansing can cause:
- Back and pelvic abscesses
- Fatal aeroportia or gas accumulation in the mesenteric veins with air emboli
- Rectal perforations
- Perineal gangrene
- Acute water intoxication
- Coffee enema-associated colitis and septicemia
- Deaths due to amebiasis
Many FDA warnings on colon cleanses
What’s more, the doctors point out that over the past decade, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued many warning letters to manufacturers for their unapproved use of colon cleansing devices.