Are Colon Cleanses Bad For You?

Typically, a person may undergo a colon cleansing just prior to a procedure such as a colonoscopy (via the Mayo Clinic). For this process, a tube is generally inserted into the rectum, and liquid is flushed through the colon to clear it out. Outside of preparing for medical reasons, however, there are some who point to this process as being beneficial for a whole host of health issues. In fact, colon cleanse enthusiasts maintain removing the toxins via a cleanse can improve such health issues as high blood pressure and arthritis.

According to WebMD, some proponents of colon cleansing point to an old theory known autointoxication. According to this idea, undigested food that passes through the colon during the digestive process can, over time, lead to a toxic buildup. These toxins can eventually find their way into the bloodstream, leading to such symptoms as fatigue, headaches, and weight gain. However, although there may be benefits to colon cleanses, there isn't enough science to fully support their use. And the potential side effects could be cause for concern. 

Colon cleanses can disrupt your body's functions

According to Keck Medicine of USC, many colon cleanses are performed by practitioners who lack proper medical training. Performing a delicate procedure such as a colon cleanse without proper training or equipment can create problems, including rectal perforation. In addition, self-performed coffee enemas have been linked to several dangerous outcomes, according to a 2020 study published in Medicine. The study showed that coffee enemas could result in colitis, as well as, in extreme cases, death.

Healthline notes that there are serious risks associated with colon cleanses, more than there are benefits. These risks include dehydration due to the removal of fluids from the body. In some cases, dehydration can result in kidney failure. Additionally, colon cleanses can create an electrolyte imbalance in the body, which can cause a person to lose consciousness or even suffer kidney damage. The instruments, as well as the fluids used in a colon cleanse, can potentially bring bad bacteria into the body, while also removing the good bacteria we need to keep us healthy.

Your body already does the work for you

According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, colon cleanses aren't necessary, as your body already removes all of the waste products from your food on its own. Performing a colon cleanse can affect your body's microbiome, flushing out the bacteria that can protect your body from infections and help defend your body from colon cancer.

Additionally, your intestines absorb important nutrients from food and distribute them to your bloodstream (per WebMD). If you flush out your colon, you could inadvertently be cleaning out these nutrients from your system as well. Over time, this could result in a vitamin deficiency and prevent your colon from doing the job for which it was intended.

If you do want to consider having a colon cleanse, you should have a discussion with your healthcare provider first, particularly if you have any health problems or take any medications (via the Mayo Clinic). You should also, according to Healthline, choose a reputable practitioner who, ideally, is connected to a professional organization. They should also only use new, disposable equipment and have a proper routine for disinfection. Making smart choices and working closely with your doctor can help you stay safe and healthy.