Colon Cleanse Vs Bowel Prep: What's The Difference?

The colon, which is a part of the large intestine, is a long tube-like organ located at the end of the digestive tract. It is responsible for absorbing water and electrolytes from undigested food matter, forming and storing feces, and eliminating waste products from the body, per the Cleveland Clinic. The colon is also home to millions of bacteria that help to break down food matter to produce certain vitamins and nutrients. These bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome, have been shown to play a key role in maintaining immune function, regulating metabolism, and even affecting nutritional responses, per a 2020 study published in the journal Cell Research.

Unfortunately, the colon can also be a site of many diseases and conditions that can significantly impact wellbeing. Common conditions that affect the colon include irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, and colon cancer, per Medline Plus, so staying on top of your colon's health is crucial. Both colon cleanses and bowel prep are common procedures for emptying the colon, but they are used for different purposes and have different methods.

What is bowel prep?

Bowel prep is performed before certain diagnostic tests or procedures of the colon, such as a colonoscopy. The goal of bowel prep is to completely empty the colon of solid waste and residue so that the medical provider can obtain a clear view of the colon and any abnormalities or growths present can be detected accurately, explains the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

Bowel prep typically involves taking oral laxatives or drinking a large amount of a special solution, says the The Leeds Teachings Hospitals. However, different types of bowel preps exist. The exact method of bowel prep may vary depending on your medical condition and, perhaps, the procedure being performed. For example, the preparation for a colonoscopy may differ from that for a sigmoidoscopy or a barium enema. Your doctor will advise on the best prep to take, and following their instructions is vital.

Generally speaking, the preparation process is an essential step in ensuring the accuracy of the diagnostic test or procedure. A poorly prepped colon can result in a new diagnostic appointment if your doctor can't see clearly.

What is a colon cleanse?

A colon cleanse, also known as colon hydrotherapy or colonic irrigation, removes waste and toxins from the colon using water or other substances, says Healthline. The procedure involves using a tube inserted into the rectum to pump water (around 60 liters) to flush out the colon. Some methods may also involve using other substances, such as herbal solutions, to further promote cleansing and healing of the colon, per the Mayo Clinic.

Compared to the bowel prep, a colon cleanse is less of a medical procedure and more recreational. In contrast, bowel prep is a specific preparation that is performed before certain medical tests and procedures.

Colon cleansing is often promoted to improve digestion, boost energy levels, and promote weight loss. Proponents of colon cleansing believe it can help remove toxins that may contribute to various health problems, including constipation, bloating, and even certain diseases such as colon cancer, says the Mayo Clinic. However, there is little scientific evidence to support the use of colon cleansing for improving health or preventing disease.