Colon Cleansing: Not So Cleansing After All

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How clean is your colon? If you’re tempted to find out by getting a colon cleanse, don’t bother. You’re quite likely to develop complications from the procedure and there’s no evidence that flushing out your colon has any health benefits.

That’s the conclusion researchers reached after reviewing 20 studies on colonic cleansing. Dr. Ranit Mishori and her team at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Providence Hospital report in the Journal of Family Practice that colonic cleanses — whether with water or via supplements or herbal remedies, don’t actually do much — other than potentially cause some uncomfortable, and in some cases dangerous side effects.

Spas and wellness facilities like to tout the “detoxifying” benefits of colonic cleanses, and these claims include improvements in well-being and energy and even weight loss. Some remedies go so far as to list boosts in immune function.

The concept is certainly alluring — stress, not to mention our unhealthy diets and the various chemicals and pollutants we’re exposed to everyday — can build up in our gut, slowly poisoning us from the inside out. Why not periodically clean out the system and start anew?

The problem with that argument, says Mishori, is that there is no medical evidence to support it. Colonic cleanses were popular more than a century ago, until the American Medical Association quashed any notion that the practice was worthwhile by condemning cleanses as not medically necessary in 1919. But in recent years, celebrities, with the help of heavy marketing by spa facilities, have brought the cleanses back. Nothing, however, has changed on the medical front.

“I totally understand where people are coming from in wanting to detoxify,” says Mishori, “You want to get all the gunk out. But there is no evidence that [the cleanses] are doing anything, and physiologically it doesn’t make sense. The body has a system for detoxifying itself — it’s called pee and poop. And for healthy people, that’s all it takes.”

And while the idea of cleaning out the intestines sounds like a good idea, you actually need a good growth of bacteria in your gut to ease digestion and voiding of waste.

But what concerned Mishori and her team wasn’t simply the fact that patients didn’t appear to be getting any benefit from the cleanses, but that the procedures were causing harm. “Every time you put something where it’s not supposed to be in the body, you can poke tissue, make holes and disrupt architecture,” she says. And that’s exactly what the studies found. Those who underwent colon hydrotherapy, in which technicians insert a tube in the rectum and flood the colon with liters of fluid, often water, experienced infections and complications from bacteria that were introduced into the colon or from accidental punctures made by the hose.

People who opted for less invasive methods, including supplements, teas, laxatives, or herbal remedies to empty the colon didn’t necessarily fare any better — they experienced cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and, in severe cases, imbalances in their electrolytes and kidney failure.

Dick Hoenninger, executive director of the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy, a professional organization that certifies technicians in the procedure, says the group is aware of well-being claims made for colon cleansing, but notes that there isn’t much science behind them. “We suggest to our therapists and anybody doing colon hydrotherapy that it should be done for medically indicated purposes and at the indication of a physician,” he says.

Indeed, the only reasons for which the FDA approves colon hydrotherapy devices that use fluids to cleanse the colon, are medical needs such as to clean out the colon before a radiological exam, or colonoscopy, or for constipation. But ironically, while people are willing to undergo cleansing for unproven purposes of well-being, under the premise that they are detoxifying themselves, they’re a little less willing to get the procedure done when it might actually lead to medical benefits. Cleansing with laxatives or other remedies, for example, is similar to the preparation required before a colonoscopy to check for cancerous lesions, but many people would rather risk missing the tumor than subject themselves to the discomfort of emptying out their colon.

That may speak to the fact that spas and wellness facilities might be better at marketing their services than doctors. But given the lack of evidence supporting the practice, the benefits of colon cleansing, it seems, remain more psychological than physiological.

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter @TIME.

23 comments
MelissaAmi
MelissaAmi

I think I have to agree with this in some aspects. I started cleansing and have had HORRIBLE side effects (aka die off) from it. Now my stomach is inflamed and I can barely eat weeks after parasite cleansing. Thank god I opted out of the colonic. But Im now seeing a GI specialist to help me.... I don't think I will ever do a cleanse again!

SuperColonCleanse
SuperColonCleanse

I think that anyone at anytime can say "no it doesn't work," but maybe a little more research on colon cleansing would be a good thing.

SafiyaOni1
SafiyaOni1

This is so disturbing, not only is it incorrect but it is attacking an age old practice that helped keep families healthy for many generations, in my family and families across the world.  It was not until the pharmaceutical industry really took over that these and other natural practices that kept people strong and healthy, were frowned upon.  I believe that these natural practices are frowned upon because they help people to feel that they are in control of their health and mothers to feel that they can help keep their family members healthy and happy without subjecting them to medications.  My family has been doing colonics naturally for many generations and it is now a practice I share with my clients because I know for a fact and have years of proof that it is perfectly healthy an safe.

tomy_thom
tomy_thom

Colon cleansing is a good practice of keeping the colon healthy because there can stuck some food stuff and can cause health problems. As a pharmacist I encounter many people buying laxatives because they feel their intestinal system needs to be cleansed now and then. Though I can not confirm the practice medically, I believe it can be necessary. There is also an all natural supplement that helps to cleanse the colon: http://dess.me/Btrl

ceciliah
ceciliah

I am a journalist and practicing colonic therapist and feel concerned that the medical community write off colonic treatments so readily when there is no medical research or trials to ascertain if it works or not. Why has research on the subject been overlooked. Before 1919, the treatment was seen as beneficial. With the advent of laxatives it was then deemed not necessary. I have worked as a nurse and bowel management using laxatives does not work. It works for a while but long term use brings very poor results. At the end of the article psychological over the physiological is used as a denigration that colonics are all in the mind and are pointless...the bowel and the brain are one place, we are not seperate entities in body and mind and I have seen plenty of evidence that clearing the colon, eating properly and cleansing through detoxing works wonders.

What is so bad about hydration? Hydrating the colon does work and I have seen many examples to prove it. I would like Alice Parks to get back to me on this issue...or if you are a person that has benefited, write in. I would like to communicate with all these people who have apparently had perforated colons and depleted bacterial balance issues. 15 years of treating people has again proved otherwise from where I am standing.

JRP
JRP

This article really upsets me. I've recently been going to a Colon Therapist who performs the Colon Cleanse with a machine called The Angel of Water. This process is GREAT. No discomfort and just a 45 minute session. I had been in bad health for a few years gaining weight out of no where, no regular BM's, tired, lazy, depressed, bloated, gassy and just over-all in lots of pain on a daily basis. Doctors would just prescribe me medication that didn't work and made me feel worse! I finally was referred by a friend to my current Colon Therapist and just after the one session I noticed a HUGE difference. No more stomach cramping, no more gas or bloating, I had energy, and I feel great! I've had 5 session's and I finally feel like I did 3 years ago! This is a great process and the ONLY thing that has worked for me and my stomach issues. I HIGHLY recommend Colon Cleansing and I appreciate what my Colon Therapist has done for me.

CeciliaHolmes
CeciliaHolmes

I am a colonic therapist and feel astounded at the narrow mindedness of the medical profession. I have worked as a nurse and now a therapist and believe me...bowel care for the elderly is appalling. Immodium or products like it to bung them up and lactlose to loosen them up.....does not work, I have witnessed that putting tablets or liquid in your mouth to sort out the balance of the bowel does not work....I repeat does not work...

The fluid balance of the bowel is put out of sync and the elderly person suffers with either diarrhoea or constipation, the balance is not achieved....it creates untold discomfort , depression, confusion and misery in the elderly and the nonsensical doctors keep prescribing this rubbish without a care in the world.

What is wrong with an enema? It is only water and herbs for god's sake and you put water in to an area that needs it....nobody complains when you give a much needed drink to a plant?

and by the way a colonic is also an enema, just a high one...debunk the total crap that is written about the harmless task of hydrating yourself....Time magazine are making money, talking crap and that lady needs to get over herself

jacobsmith
jacobsmith

Colon cleansing tablets are used for weight loss and detoxification. Colon cleansing tablets help the body expel waste faster and more efficiently. Some holistic health proponents believe that the colon cannot truly clean itself, and that waste builds up along the intestinal walls. Most conventional physicians disagree with this assessment and believe colon cleansing is unnecessary. Makers of colon cleansing products and programs insist that the colon retains toxins, pollutants, parasites, food and fecal matter that can make you ill. By following the program or taking the product, you will then be able to feel better and be generally healthier. But is this true? What do doctors think? 

JasmineSantaMaria
JasmineSantaMaria

A friend recommended the Lady Soma Detox since it was using all natural ingredients and I was really impressed.  I did the Detox in 7 days.


This was a lot easier than other cleanses mostly because you're not starving the whole time.  I even had energy to work out.


I emailed the company about suggestions and a rep got back to me the same day with a lot of great suggestions.  Really nice woman and nice company. 


I felt really cleansed after the first 3 days and the "cleansing" part sort of slowed down after that, so doing just 3 days is probably enough for most people.


I lost 8 pounds by the 6th day and I've only gained back 1 pound.  Great product!

LiannDaos
LiannDaos

I cleanse every week and long are gone the days where the doctor puts a huge tube in you and flushes you, now it's a tiny tube that barely enters your body so no chance of piercing anything and the water flows gently into you;, I have medical proof that it does help, my liver was huge and they were about to do a biopsy since im a past cancer patient.  I waited for the procedure in the meantime kept my colon cleansing appointments, now after 12 cleanses my liver is back to normal so how is that not helping me medically?  Im never giving colon cleansing up my digestive system is the base of my house that I need to keep clean or else my body will foreclose on me :) /


MarvWillis
MarvWillis

after looking at the comments and seeing some people with a good mind of their own. I recommend  listening to Frances and Friends sonlifetv.com - You can find out about the health care plan that is going to kill off many. Also, you will see how the Doctors are being put out of business and what our government is up to. Also, how children are being brain washed in the schools.  It's not just Time magazine that's saying hold it in.  Many many topics we need to get educated on before it's too late. Lord help us. 

MarvWillis
MarvWillis

Of course Time would post something like this. Just keep that old fecal matter lodged, it won't hurt you. Toxic bowel is just a myth. Jesus Christ was just a man and the Pope is God. Ooooh, listen to Time magazine, they know it all. All I can say is, I've done it while juice fasting. As a guitar player, my thinking became so clear. My playing accuracy and memory increased tremendously. I am now off of meat and things that clog. Colon health is at the top of my list. Two thumbs down for the Anti-Christ magazine. 

DML_intrim
DML_intrim

Great to hear positive comments for cleansing. 

HamishBycroft
HamishBycroft

A whole lot of imagining... a whole lot of blaming... a whole lot of nonsense predictions... not enough real evidence either way. I would like each an every one of you to take part in a controlled experiment to prove your point, whatever it may be. If you want to share your "knowledge", have some material to back it up. It makes it hard doing an assignment on this when no one can provide a solid argument with evidence to back up the nonsense claims for/against colon cleansing. I mean other than the "evidence" of course.. or the "try it yourself", personal opinion, metaphysics, whatever. I want cold, hard, evidence. You think your bloods toxic before you colon cleanse.. test that, and I mean before and after blood tests. You think colon cleansing is bad and causes dehydration and imbalances of electrolytes.. prove it, take tests before and after. Really is it that hard? Do we want to believe what we THINK is the truth or KNOW the truth. Who can argue with facts? Don't tell me a blood test is dodgy, your a fool. And when samples from a LARGE population of UNBIASED people put colon cleansing properly to the test. Then and ONLY THEN should people have a public opinion of the issue. 


Ps. Please save me the following line "the evidence is out there".. It isn't...

Technusgirl
Technusgirl

wtf, are they serious?  Yes, it does have benefits!  It prevents colon cancer and helps your body to better absorb nutrients.  Food and other materials can become caked along the walls of your intestines and can fester for years.  Because it's caked along the walls, it prevents your body from effectively absorbing nutrients.  And in our nutrient deficient world were people are brainwashed into thinking that vitamins are bad, no wonder we suffer with so many medical problems.  I just did a colonics last night and already I notice my skin feels nice and soft and I feel really great.  I'm going to continue until I have all that garbage flushed out of my system.

naturalbeforechemical
naturalbeforechemical

Just the fact that this study was performed by a school of medicine/drugs tells you that it is highly suspect/bias. When is so called modern medicine, that has learnt all that they know from nature, going to stop rubbishing natural therapies! It's all about keeping everyone not quite well enough so that they can keep making more money. Modern medicine is the 3rd biggest killer in the world behind cancer and heart disease but they like to keep that fact very well hidden. The depth of deception and greed saddens me greatly. Modern medicine/science has done allot for the advancement of our race but with curing disease they are absolutely pathetic, they only treat symptoms and everyone knows you can’t fix a problem at the level of the problem, you need to treat the cause, this is merely common sense! Get rid of the cause and you fix the problem, hello doctors I hope your reading this :) you have been let down in a big way by the very institutions that have trained you it’s not your fault but please further your studies so that you can truly start helping people to be healthy and not have to rely on meds for the rest of their lives. Amen.

KarenCall
KarenCall

I've experienced the benefits of enemas by first using water until the water runs clean, then garlic in the water (to kill parasites), and then replenishing the colon with probiotic capsules in the water. Then, eating a Raw Vegan diet. After each enema (which for me was only necessary between my transition from mostly cooked foods Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian to Raw Vegan--now I'm about ~70% Raw, 100% Vegan for the past year) my senses of hearing, smelling, taste, sight, and overall feeling of wellness improved to such a degree that you wouldn't understand until you've experienced it. It is not simply psychological: it is very much a physiological process which leads to cleaner blood, greater nutrient absorption, increased energy and vitality, sense of wholeness and normalcy, which yes, does have an immediate effect on happiness. It is a palpable, tangible sharpening of the senses and feeling of being much more clean and lighter.

Our body is like a pipe system: do you know how hard it is to clean dishes with cooked food versus raw? Can you imagine cleaning an oily, hardened food pan without water? Can you imagine what the colon looks like after a lifetime of foods that putrefy, like rotting flesh, animal saturated fats, processed foods, white flour, grains that no longer sprout in the fields due to mechanical harvesting (leading to celiac disease on some level, or gluten intolerance), condiments, etc.--things the body was never designed for, yet we have been brainwashed societally, religiously, and culturally to believe we are adapted to? How about showing some polls illustrating the percentage of people who have constipation as meat-eaters, versus those who don't, as Vegans? I think the ratio would astound you. There is a huge constipation problem in the U.S. as attested to by the fact that U.S. consumers spend over $900 million dollars per year on laxatives, and I have yet to hear of a constipated Raw (or mostly Raw) Vegan! 

Constipation leads to a whole host of diseases and problems and is said to be one of the biggest underlying causes of health problems: lack of proper nutrient absorption. Another cause of improper nutrient absorption? Parasites. The AMA has estimated that more than 90% of Americans have parasites, yet doctors diagnose for it (much less test for it) less than 1% of the time, and if a gastroenterologist did finally test, their tests can identify less than 0.05% of parasites (there are over 1,000 different parasites with only about fifty tests available to detect fifty different parasites. Eighty percent of the time, those tests don't catch even the ones that they do have available to catch because the doctor chooses to do them at the wrong time of the parasite's life cycle.). Juice fasting or water fasting with enemas can lead to a removal of these parasites. MDs almost never attribute stomach or intestinal pains to parasites, despite this percentage and their reality. There are many reasons why laxatives do not work as well as weaken the bowels, versus water + natural parasite-killing herbs.


One of the funny things about Urological problems is that one of the very treatments ordered before the surgery (enemas) is often what leads people to feel better already before the surgery even happens, yet MDs are largely not giving credit to this life-saving procedure, and instead, are giving credit to themselves and the surgeries (granted that some of the surgeries are necessary.) As a Physician's Scribe for a year and a half, I can attest to this. I can also attest to the affect a heavy meat-eating diet has had on thousands of people Urologically versus hundreds who have seen completely different results with a mostly raw or fully raw Vegan lifestyle, yet mentioning the detail that they described themselves as heavy meat eaters in their medical history has always been deleted by the Physicians, who approve the record. In their entire twelve years of schooling, they receive 1 class in Nutrition (a class where they are taught to regurgitate what is expected), and many have never heard of colon hydrotherapy. By the way, I have been doing enemas for several years now (now at the rate of about once every 6 months) and have not once had an infection or colon perforation. I listen to my body in what its comfort level is. It's something I feel everyone needs to know about.

JJent
JJent

Why do people rubbish colonics so vehemently? And always with a really poor argument like 'the body poops, that's all we need'.  Yes, maybe if we were all eating a completely whole and unprocessed diet from birth the colon would be this amazing picture of health, but how many of us have done that? Of course we don't need colonics, but there's a big difference in saying we don't need them and they don't offer any health benefits.

Take a quote from the article above 'Those who underwent colon hydrotherapy, in which technicians insert a tube in the rectum and flood the colon with liters of fluid, often water, experienced infections and complications from bacteria that were introduced into the colon or from accidental punctures made by the hose.' This statement implies that all people who undergo colon hydrotherapy experience infections and punctures to their colon! What rubbish! Do your research please. If this treatment is carried out by an experienced, trained professional there is no way you would have either of these things happen. It's a bit like saying 'those who underwent open heart surgery, in which surgeons saw open the chest cavity and cut into living tissue, experienced death.' Is that what you'd call a balanced statement?

It astounds me that modern medicine can go on the way it does with such little public scrutiny, but any natural system gets all the flack without any solid proof to back it up. The people writing these articles should talk to those who have benefited from colonics. I have had them and they have improved my health out of sight. They've also helped my large intestine to function a lot more efficiently. Especially in conjunction with an increased intake of fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet. And no, I have not had any infections or colon punctures.

This method of healing has been around in traditional healing systems in one form or another for thousands of years. Yet western medicine is less than 500 years old. If western medicine was so great and all knowing, then why isn't our collective health improving? Why are cancer rates and other chronic illnesses becoming the norm? 

Give me alternate therapies over western medicine any day. At least I have the possibility of retaining some modicum of good health.

CharaBui
CharaBui

After receiving my first colonic treatment, I will surely say that I feel better because I released quite a bit of compacted material, bloating, and undigested food. This is after many changes to improve my diet, exercise, and sleep lifestyle. At the same time, it would make sense that this procedure can harm people if done improperly or for weak intestines. I think the problem arises when the people facilitating cleanses are more motivated by profit, power, or fame than promoting health. Then it becomes more about hype than truth. Those people will compromise the art of cleanses and other holistic medicine to make some money. Same with the companies that sell drugs that treat symptoms rather than cure illnesses. I am looking forward to my next colonic unless my body lets me know otherwise.

KatherineNatashaLott
KatherineNatashaLott

I'm glad you are professional and practice it safely. What mistakes can occur with these kinds of procedures?

KatherineNatashaLott
KatherineNatashaLott

It sounds like the article is praising enemas and checking for tumors and other nonevasive procedures that treat actual medical problems. TIME is condemning treatments for ""wellbeing" as preying on people like selling a $500 study guide to a 3.7 GPA student who wants a perfect 4.0.

You aren't addressing TIME'S actual criticism. What happens when a cleanse goes wrong?

KatherineNatashaLott
KatherineNatashaLott

It sounds like the article is praising enemas and checking for tumors and other nonevasive procedures that treat actual medical problems. TIME is condemning treatments for ""wellbeing" as preying on people like selling a $500 study guide to a 3.7 GPA student who wants a perfect 4.0.

You aren't addressing TIME'S actual criticism. What happens when a cleanse goes wrong?

KatherineNatashaLott
KatherineNatashaLott

Why do doctors -autopsy doctors , researxcers, colon cancer doctors- repeatedly say that food doesn't get caked onto the colon? Why did the man that invented this myth say that doctors simply don't know about it?

Constipation is from dehydration. Cancer is a breakdown of the DNA of colon cells. Youtube a colonoscopy and you never see this mythical "muscus layer". The internet is full of pictures of what smoker's lungs and drinker's livers look like. Where's the colon mucus picture?

And not those pictures of colon-shaped feces that are the direct result of eating some powder that's indigestible fiber made it look like a rubber mold of the colon.

Where is the autopsy cut open colon that clearly shows the mucus because this is the 21st century where we instruct our children to cut open frogs so that they can see the organ cavity for themselves.