Irrigating your colon doesn’t sound pleasant, but practitioners claim it can provide numerous health benefits like improving digestion and weight loss. However, doing a colon cleanse doesn’t come without risks. Like most lifestyle practices, it should be approached carefully, with sufficient knowledge of the potential dangers.
Colon cleansing, also known as colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy, involves flushing the colon with fluids to remove waste. It’s a practice that’s been around since ancient times, and the benefits are based on the premise that digestive waste can be a toxin to the body.
Generally, a professional called a colonic hygienist performs the colon cleanse while you rest on a table. It involves sending approximately 60 liters of fluid through a tube into the rectum. Toxins are then expelled through a different tube, and the process is repeated.
You can find at-home colon irrigation products online or in your local drug store.
Practitioners of colon cleansing say you can reap numerous benefits by removing the toxins from your digestive system. They say it can lead to weight loss, better digestion, increased energy, and clearer thinking. But most of these claims are unproven and lack scientific support.
But despite the results of the above study, colon cleansing should be approached with caution, as it can potentially lead to colon damage. We outline the possible risks of colon cleansing below.
The list of potential risks associated with colon cleansing is much longer than the list of benefits.
While some of the weight loss associated with colon cleansing is due to the removal of waste, it also causes the removal of fluids. Dehydration can lead to kidney failure in extreme cases.
Colon cleanses can upset the balance of electrolytes like potassium and sodium in your body. These chemicals carry electrical signals across cells, and an imbalance can lead to a loss of consciousness as well as kidney damage.
Bacterial imbalance and infection
Colon cleanses can potentially invite unhealthy bacteria into the lower digestive system with the instruments and fluids used. They also remove the healthy bacteria that can fight that infection.
Bowel perforation happens when a tear occurs in the wall of the lower intestine. It’s considered a medical emergency. Though symptoms begin with fever, pain, chills, and nausea, it can progress and even be fatal.
If you know the risks and are still interested in colon cleansing, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood that you’ll suffer any ill health effects.
- Talk to your doctor first. Some people may be at a greater risk for complications.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration both before and after your cleanse.
- Choose your therapist wisely. There are no licensing requirements for colonic hygienists, but some belong to professional organizations that require some training in first aid and CPR. Talk to other people who have used specific therapists before you go through with your appointment.
- Ensure only new, disposable equipment and protective gear is used. Make sure your hygienist has a proper disinfection routine and uses disposable equipment whenever possible. Colon cleansing equipment can transmit bacteria if not properly sterilized.
In addition to the traditional irrigation colon cleanse, there are many products on the market that claim to deliver similar benefits through oral supplements. These may come in capsules, powders, or teas, and include plant fibers and natural laxatives. If you opt for supplements, read the package directions carefully and discuss the ingredients with your doctor.
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Medically reviewed by Saurabh Sethi, M.D., MPH — Written by Anna Schaefer — Updated on June 14, 2018