Colon cleansing—maybe you’ve seen the ads for Colon Blow, Almighty or Bowtrol, or perhaps you have a friend who swears by them. Proponents claim they feel lighter and more energetic, have flatter stomachs and have beat constipation, IBS, bloating, stomach pain and skin problems. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just Google the “Dual Action Cleanse” and prepare yourself for a very scary infomercial, led by a guy who looks like a young John Waters, in which people talk very graphically about their bowel movements. Or, if you feel like vomiting, go to the DrNatura.com website for pictures of the magnificent creations that people have released from their bottoms while cleansing. But do you really need to purify your poop-shoot? You’re hard-hitting IE Weekly tackles this crappy question.
Rather bluntly, the answer is no. Most doctors (who aren’t getting paid by a colon cleanse company) will tell you that the only really good reason to cleanse the colon is in preparation for a medical exam of the colon, and in that case, they simply need to see the organ better. According to Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Michael Picco, M.D., colon cleansing is just plain unnecessary. You don’t need enemas, special diets or cleansing pills or powders to eliminate waste material or bacteria. Your colon is made to clean itself naturally—that’s why you poo in the first place.
In fact, “cleansing” your colon may actually be harmful to your health. Part of your colon’s job is to absorb water and sodium in order to maintain your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. Some colon-cleansing products disrupt this process, leading to dehydration and salt depletion. You can also eliminate the good bacteria that exist in your colon to help with digestion. Even worse, long-term or excessive cleansing programs can lead to more serious problems such as anemia, malnutrition and heart failure. Having enemas can lead to abscesses caused by too much water and rectal perforation.
Some cleanse fanatics believe your large intestine (colon) gets blocked up from all the preservatives, chemicals and bad fats in our modern diet, and then becomes a cesspool of toxins that slowly poison you. But they are simply wrong. Constipation can be uncomfortable, but studies have shown that the resulting symptoms (headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability) are actually a result of the colon being forced to expand, not because of anything in the fecal matter.
If your problem is constipation, you can help prevent it by drinking lots of water, getting in your cardio, and eating a diet rich in fiber (fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains). When it comes to fiber, the Institute of Medicine recommends that men aged 50 and younger consume 38 grams per day, and that women get 25 grams. Men aged 51 and older should consume 30 grams per day, and the women should get at least 21 grams. Check labels and try to buy products that have at least three grams of fiber per serving. Wholegrain breakfast cereals, beans, brown rice, peas, potatoes, yams, spinach and apples are all great choices.
“There’s no doubt that diet has a lot to do with what’s in the colon,” says Bernard Levin, M.D., vice president for cancer prevention at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. “If you’re eating a lot of red meat and fat, it’s not as good for you in general. The way to avoid or mitigate the effects of an unhealthy diet is not to change what’s in the colon, but to change what comes in the front end.”
Claims to the contrary are just a lot of bung.