The Crap That Is Colon Cleansing

I think it's time to cleanse the world of colon cleansing.

Colon cleansing is where people go on special liquid diets or take special liquid or herbal supplements to "cleanse" the colon of any "toxins" that supposedly have accumulated in there.

First, the word "toxin" is always a red flag. Usually, "toxin" is pseudoscientific doublespeak that people use to get you to buy their product. The next time people tell you their product will get rid of toxins, ask them "Which toxins?" They usually can't tell you.

In fact, colon cleansing is based on the outdated 19th century theory of autointoxication....the belief that waste collects in the colon over time and stagnates there. Well, research as early as the 1920's showed that this isn't true. Doctors who regularly perform colonoscopies and literally look into hundreds of colons per year will tell you that stool does not collect in the colon at all.

There's also no evidence that stool is toxic to the body. If stool was toxic, then people who suffer from constipation would also suffer from more disease....but they don't.

If you take a close look at the ingredients of these "colon cleansing" products, you'll find that they're either simply a random collection of different types of fiber...

and/or a random collection of herbs...

...and there's no evidence that any of these herbs do anything for you, let alone "cleanse" your colon.

In fact, you have to be careful with some of the herbal colon cleansers, because they may contain powerful laxatives, such as senna leaves. While laxatives can occasionally relieve constipation, frequent use may have harmful effects, including dehydration and vitamin/mineral deficiencies.

Despite all the claims of the people who want you to take a colon bath, there's no need to cleanse your colon. It does just fine on its own.

For a healthy colon, what matters is what you put in your mouth. Make sure your diet is adequate in natural fiber from whole fruits and vegetables. Also, drink enough water....mild dehydration may result in constipation.

Basically, the only crap that needs to get cleaned up here is the crap surrounding colon cleansers.  If you ever use any these products, you're flushing your money right down the toilet...literally!

23 Responses to “The Crap That Is Colon Cleansing

  • I’ve never understood the colon cleansing concept either. I know a few folks who take “natural” herbs for constipation problems, and I can’t understand why they don’t start eating some high-fiber food (or food with any fiber). Brown rice, kale, sweet corn are yummy, cheaper than enemas or supplements, work just fine, and are undoubtedly more pleasant. However, it is my impression that there’s plenty of crap (sorry) in stool, which is why we want fiber to increase transit time, so things have less time to oxidize, or otherwise react into possible carcinogens, etc.

    • Julie,

      Yes, that is one of the hypotheses behind why fiber may decrease risk of colon cancer….by giving substances less time to react in the colon.


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  • Hi, Jamal,

    In regards to the colon stuff, sure you’re way more qualified than me, but if people eat junk (and especially overeat it) and there are deposits that have built up due to the colon being completely maxed out then a cleanse can only help their system.

    Deposits do not build up in the colon, however. Now, there is a condition known as diverticulitis, where inflamed, bulging pouches develop in your colon. The causes of diverticulitis are not known, but a diet that is low in fiber and high in refined carbohydrates is a known risk factor for diverticulitis. However, a “colon cleanse” will not fix this problem. Only a diet with adequate fiber, and adequate physical activity, will help, as this helps with the passage of stool through the colon.

    People have made the observation that we are literally being poisoned by our own feces which can contribute to disease.

    As I mentioned in the post, if junk truly built up in the colon, then people who suffer from constipation would suffer from more health problems than people who don’t. But the evidence indicates that this is not true. Thus, we are not being poisoned by our own feces. There is simply no solid evidence for this.

    While I am on Weightology I should mention that I have lost 56 pounds and kept it off so far.

    Congratulations on your weight loss, Jamal!

  • Good blog. I agree 100%.

  • Great post, James.

    I’ve shaken my head far too often at people who keep singing the praises of ‘detoxification’ without understanding what on earth they’re talking about.

    Really, if stuff does get stuck in the colon, then you ought to be seeing a proctologist or colorectal specialist or whatever it is that they call specialized colon doctors these days. A simple off-the-shelf concoction is not going to solve a blockage of that kind.

    And if you’re really concerned about keeping your ‘basement’ clean, just follow what the good family doctor has always said about a healthy diet which includes vegetables and eight glasses of water a day.

    Sadly to this day I keep seeing reputable pharmacies selling ‘detox teas’ and otherwise intelligent people paying good money for them. Sigh…..

  • I thought the only colon treatment was colonic irrigation (a.k.a. colonic hydrotherapy). There was a report in a UK newspaper (either The Mail or The Independent I think), where the reporter went on a health vacation in Thailand. He was given a small amount of simple food, and various different herbal drinks. Then, he underwent the colonic irrigation treatment. One of the things that his body released was a Marble. It seems he was carrying this around for a long time. He claimed that he felt much better after this experience, including the sensation of his skin having greater elasticity.

  • oxygirl
    8 years ago

    Hi James…

    Interesting column,and quite timely since I am one of those that ‘believes’ in what people say about their products…case in point. I was recently introduced to Isogenix, and the results of the people taking it are phenomenal! So, of course I am thinking, why not?? Then I hear someone else say, that if you stop taking the products, then you will gain your weight back! So, what can one believe??

    And on another note, what is your opinion of colon cleansing if someone has IBD? I have Crohn’s and so of course my bowels are not typically normal and are usually inflamed. (I saw the pic when I was first diagnosed). I have always been leery about them anyways, given my condition,as I thought it might do more harm than good…especially since I cannot handle high fiber or I would imagine some of those other ingredients.

  • Thanks for the article!

    These colon cleanser sellers are banking on the fact that overweight people tend of seeking for the one magic thing that they will buy and they will suddently “lose their belly in 48 hours” like the ads say.
    And all they get for their money is an intestine flush, or at worse, some fiber.

    Our bodies are the result of millions of years of evolution and they need no “colon cleansers”, what helps to lose weight is the right kind of information, and constance.

    For instance, stop taking lifts and stop drinking pop! Then maybe they can move onto giving up fried foods, next how about walking around the block once a day? And so on. But will they do it, nope, they’d rather believe the fairy tale of the colon cleaner, so in the end just like there is “confort food” there are “confort products”.. and that’s what colon cleansers are for many, they make them feel like they are trying, it’s a temporary fix to make them feel well, just like eating one more donut.

  • Scott Peterson
    6 years ago

    I’m a freshman in college, and definitely NOT a master in the subject, but I had to do a project on pseudoscience and I actually chose colon cleansing as my subject! lol 🙂

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  • I’ve tried to eat fiber, drink lots of water but to no avail. What would you say about sea salt water cleanse?

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