Colonic cleansing: murky waters ahead

Colonic cleansing can be dangerous and has no scientific evidence of benefiting your gut health. It's probably the most common GI trend I get asked about as a doctor, and often patients fall prey to the false advertising and phony marketing that has characterized the practice for years. Let's explore these murky waters (pun-intended)...

Unlike many of the other "trends" we cover on this site, there is actually quite a bit of medical literature on this topic. Colonic detoxification actually dates back to ancient Egypt, and was popularized in the early 1900s with a since disproven theory called autointoxication. The basic idea? Your colon generates harmful toxins so if you create a mass exodus of those toxins you'll make your body healthier. Spoiler alert, that's not how your gut works.


What is colonic cleansing?

The ways in which the "cleansing" is performed varies from hydrotherapy (=large volumes of water given as enemas) to natural laxatives (i.e. coffee enemas or an all fruit diet) and often as non-FDA approved products (developed by "doctors" who aren't doctors) sold under the umbrella term "colonics". Telemarketing, online advertising, and the GI equivalent to fake news have all created an environment for these products to thrive. Frankly, doctors have done an awful job of combatting this false narrative.


Is colonic cleansing dangerous?

Despite comprehensive literature reviews clearly outlying the dangers of colonic cleansing, the gap in patient access to medical research has made it difficult for patients to understand these risks. Dangerous electrolyte imbalances, damaging your bowels to the point of perforation, and life-threatening infections are all too common. This is all in the absence of any medical literature ever demonstrating that cleansing is of any actual benefit to your health.  Customer satisfaction may be driven by patients experiencing constipation, which can be addressed much more safely through other means.


How To "reset" your GI tract safely

If the goal is to truly hit the reset button on your gastrointestinal system, there are a ton of scientifically proven ways to improve your gut. First thing to do is learn more about it. While we are still learning more about the gut microbiome, reviewing what we do know is a good place to start. Even just two weeks of a healthy diet can start to improve the balance of good to bad bacteria in your colon. Being mindful of foods that give you problems and being selective about avoiding them is more than half the battle.

If high quality scientific evidence comes out that turns our current understanding of colonic cleansing upside down, I'll be sure to update you here. Otherwise, steer clear of these murky waters.

-The Gut Doc


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