Is Colon Cleansing Good for Me?

You’ve likely heard of the term “colon cleansing,” and as someone who follows a healthy lifestyle, may be wondering what it’s about and if it is beneficial or harmful. 


To decide whether or not it’s right for you, realize that there are several definitions of what exactly a colon cleanse is. 


What is a Colon Cleanse?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “During a colon cleanse, large amounts of water — sometimes up to 16 gallons (about 60 liters) — and possibly other substances, such as herbs or coffee, are flushed through the colon. This is done using a tube that's inserted into the rectum. In some cases, smaller amounts of water are used and are left to sit in the colon for a short time before being removed.” This definition, however, is often referred to as a “colonic.”


Conventional prescription bowel cleansers such as MoviPrep™, Suprep™ and Prepopik are prescribed for use prior to colonoscopies and are aggressive in their actions, which is why they are not available OTC. 


However, there are gentler ways of “buffing up” your plumbing. When you endure a bout of constipation, due to an impacted bowel (large hard stool blocking the exit), an enema will work quickly to soften the blockage, allowing for safe passage of backed-up traffic out of the tunnel.


The purpose of a self-care colon cleanse (as part of one’s healthy lifestyle regimen) is often to remove excess waste that is clinging to the insides of your large intestine; this waste is typically hardened stool.  Therefore, the goal of the colon cleanse is to rehydrate it, loosen its grip and flush it on its way out. 


For maintenance (kind of like a once-monthly deep cleaning of your home), a regular, periodic colon cleanse supplement kit, such as those from RenewLife, and HealthPlus, may be worth considering. 


Why Colon Cleanse?

According to chiropractor and author Josh Axe, DC, CNM, CNS, “If you’re not having at least one bowel movement every day, this makes you a good candidate for a colon cleanse.” 


He adds that there is substantial research linking a variety of health issues — for example, abdominal cramping/griping and flatulence, chronic fatigue, constipation, low energy, headaches and allergic reactions -- to problems with waste elimination. Colon cleansing also eliminates bacteria, heavy metals and excess fatty acids. 



“A well-functioning colon therefore is important for hormonal balance, appetite control, sleep and mental processing,” writes Dr. Axe.

 

Colon cleansing does not have to be drastic at all. It can be a mindful activity that supports your overall colon health and regular bowel evacuation. Foods and supplements can help your colon function optimally, and therefore self-cleanse regularly.

 

Colon-Scrubbing Foods

Avoiding your GI tract’s penchant for creating hard stools that can cause a traffic jam is a priority in ensuring your colon is clean. Fiber is the king of colon-friendly foods. Of the two classes of fiber – water-soluble and water-insoluble, water-soluble foods create softer stool that is easy for your colon to eject without straining. These foods include fruits, beans, oats/oat bran, barley and vegetables. Insoluble fiber foods (such as brown rice, bran, fruits with edible skin, and buckwheat) help chaperone chyme through the intestines.

 

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends consuming at least 30 grams of fiber daily. 

 

Natural, Gentle & Effective Colon Cleansers

As pharmaceutical laxatives create undesirable side effects, the reason why the medical community cautions their judicial use, herbal alternatives have been explored and found to be preferable. According to one review, there is a large range of such herbs that have laxative activity: Prunus persica, Cyamopsis tetragonolobus, Citrus sinensis, Planta goovata, Rheum emodi, Cassia auriculata, Ricinus communis, Croton tiglium, Aloe barbadensis, Mareya micrantha, Euphorbia thymifolia, Cassia angustifolia and Cascara sagrada


All these herbs are not easy to find on shelves, however, with the exception of the last one, Cascara sagrada.  Fun fact:  researchers have been exploring the use of cascara sagrada and bowel function as far back as 1884! The author of this published study writes, “Cascara sagrada is said to act chiefly by increasing the peristaltic action of the intestines.”


Senna (Senna alexandrina) is similar and is a powerful natural stimulant laxative and is not recommended to be used on a daily, regular basis.  


Psyllium husk (Plantago ovata), found in capsules and powders, is a popular option. It is a soluble-fiber that acts as a bulk-forming laxative by absorbing water in the intestines to form a gelatinous bulk, and as it moves through the GI tract, it engulfs waste, debris and toxins to move them out of the body. Oh, and this supplement provides several wonderful side benefits – it has been shown in numerous studies to help manage healthy cholesterol levels, manage weight through encouraging early satiety, serves as a prebiotic, and supports immune function.


Don’t Forget Probiotics!

As you know by now, probiotics are proven to be outstanding for overall digestive and colon health. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a variety of species and strains in promoting healthy digestive and bowel function.


In a recent study researchers specifically investigated probiotic blends for their bowel cleansing activity prior to routine colonoscopy and found that probiotics enhance the bowel evacuation process. The authors state, “Probiotic mixtures are effective and beneficial in subjects suffering from evacuation disorders and probiotic pretreatment as part of bowel preparation significantly improves the visualization of the colonic mucosa during colonoscopies in constipated individuals.”


In this prospective, randomized controlled trial, the researchers looked at the efficacy, safety, and tolerability profiles of a probiotic solution with bisacodyl versus a conventional 4-L PEG solution (control group).  They note that their study “showed the possibility of using a probiotic solution with bisacodyl as a new bowel preparation method, especially for patients who do not tolerate conventional bowel cleansing agents.”


 An earlier study looked at the efficacy of two weeks of probiotic supplementation versus placebo pre-colonoscopy in participants with constipation, and found that the probiotic protocol was more effective at bowel cleansing than placebo – 54.9% versus 20.8%, respectively. They concluded that “Two weeks of probiotics pretreatment as part of bowel preparation significantly improves colonic mucosa visualization during colonoscopy and reduces preparation-related and post-endoscopic gastrointestinal symptoms in constipated” participants.


Conclusion

The term “colon cleanse” encompasses a wide-range of methods, from potentially dangerous colonics (only have this performed with the consent of your physician), to dietary changes and supplements. Colon health is improved by regular maintenance and the occasional cleanse with herbal products and probiotics.

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