Is Colon Cleansing Helpful or Balderdash?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal brought to the forefront a long-standing debate between practitioners of conventional and alternative medicine over the value of colon cleansing.

According to the very thorough article, a profusion of Web sites, clinics and wellness spas have sprung up, claiming that colon cleansing can cure a number of ills from headaches and chronic fatigue to arthritis and cellulite.

Called hydrotherapy or “colonics,” proponents say that flushing the colon with warm water removes waste that leaks toxins into the body. A diet of processed foods, pharmaceuticals, stress and lack of exercise has clogged up our lower intestinal tracts, advocates of colonics say.

Cleansing can dramatically improve a person’s health and well-being, they add, as well as contribute to weight loss.

Gastroenterologists generally say “balderdash.”

A good friend and gastroenterologist colleague of mine, Dr. John I. Allen of Minnesota, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal article.

“I have seen a lot of colons and the notion that people have pounds of feces and evil toxins built up in there is pure fantasy,” he told the Journal.

The overwhelming majority of gastroenterologists I associate with, including my colleagues here at Gastrointestinal Associates (GIA) and those in my network of professional associations, agree with Dr. Allen.

The Wall Street Journal added: “Healthy colons are self-cleaning, they (gastroenterologists) say, and evacuating the colon via other means can do serious harm, even causing the sluggishness the cleansing purports to fix.”

Dr. Allen estimates that he has done about 20,000 colonoscopy exams. Here at GIA we have done more than 200,000. So we have a platform to speak from on healthy colons.

My main message to people considering colonics is to investigate and be wary. Right now, only Florida licenses colon hydrotherapists.

I agree with hydrotherapists and others that a healthy diet of whole grains and fruit contributes to colon health. That diet – with more fiber, less fat and higher fluid intake – can also relieve constipation.

Do colonics contribute to decreasing the risk of colon cancer? There is not enough evidence to say that.

There are certain other risks to colonics that people need to be aware of, including the possibility of infection and rectal perforation.

Hydrotherapists told the Wall Street Journal that they are “personal trainers” for the colon. My advice is to consult your physician if you think you have a problem with your colon. He or she has years of medical training and experience to diagnose and treat your condition.