Colon cleansing, also referred to as colonic detox or irrigation, often involves the use of chemicals followed by flushing the colon with water through a tube inserted in the rectum, explained Dr. Ranit Mishori and her research team at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Providence Hospital.

However, the researchers analyzed roughly 20 studies on colon cleansing that were published over the last decade and found little evidence that the procedure offers any benefits. Instead, a number of the studies found side effects such as cramping, bloating, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance and kidney failure from the procedure. These findings appear in the August issue of The Journal of Family Practice.

"There can be serious consequences for those who engage in colon cleansing whether they have the procedure done at a spa or perform it at home," lead author Mishori, a family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine, said in a university medical center news release. "Colon cleansing products in the form of laxatives, teas, powders and capsules ... tout benefits that don't exist."

Colon cleansing has been practiced since an era where antiquity was a means of enhancing health through ridding the body of toxins.

Colon cleansing procedures are similar to enemas, except that volumes of liquids - containing herbal extracts such as burdock, and milk thistle, or other substances like coffee and enzymes - in excess of 50 liters are often used, and the procedure may be done repeatedly.

The authors of the study advised that clinicians caution patients as follows:

  • Colon cleansing is not medically advisable, particularly for patients who have had any gastrointestinal disorder or other health problems.
  •  Many adverse events have been linked to these procedures including serious infections and heart failure.
  •  The devices are not FDA approved and if sanitary precautions are inadequate, infections can result.
  •  Organizations of these practitioners, and the training they receive, are not scientifically regulated.

"During the past decade the FDA has issued numerous warning letters to manufacturers for unapproved use of the devices for colon cleansing," the authors noted in the study. Among the benefits touted for colon cleansing are improvements in circulation, immune function, and alleviation of ailments such as headache and fatigue.

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