Should You Colon Cleanse?

And is the colonic or enema better for colon cleansing?

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Colon cleansing involves flushing out waste from your colon (the large intestine) using fluids. Colonics and enemas are both common methods of colon cleansing. They have a lot of similarities but also some key differences.

Also called colonic hydrotherapy or colonic irrigation, this practice is often touted as offering certain health benefits, it lacks scientific backing. These methods are, however, used to prepare you for some diagnostic exams and other procedures.

Uses and Benefits

The reasons people use colon cleanses can be separated into two categories:

  • Medically useful, scientifically backed uses
  • Popular but scientifically unsupported uses

Medical Uses and Benefits

Medical uses of a colon cleanse, and especially an enema, include:

  • To treat constipation or an impacted bowel: It's often an effective treatment for constipation/impacted bowel that haven't responded to other treatments.
  • To deliver certain medications to the lower intestine: This gets the drug right where it's needed and is used for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and proctitis.
  • To empty the contents of your colon: This is useful before surgery or diagnostic and screening tests including X-ray, colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy.

When you use a cleanse for these purposes, be sure to follow the instructions carefully. Overuse of enemas can interfere with the proper function of your colon and actually make constipation worse.

Popular Uses

In popular use, colon cleanses are purported to have all kinds of benefits, including some related to intestinal health and others having nothing to do with it. So far, none of these claims are backed by scientific evidence and they're refuted by some research. Proponents of colon cleanses say they're beneficial for:

  • Clearing waste and "toxins" from the body
  • Improving digestion
  • Boosting your immune function
  • Aiding weight loss
  • Improving mood
  • Lowering colon cancer risk

Unproven, Unnecessary

Not only are claims regarding cleanses unproven, doctors say your body already does a good job of clearing out toxins and waste on its own. After all, entire systems are dedicated to just that, and as long as they're functioning properly, it's best to leave the job to them.

Methods

Colon cleanses come in many forms in addition to colonics and enemas, including:

  • Pills: Often containing fiber supplements and other natural laxatives, many pills on the market claim to help cleanse your colon.
  • Vitamin C flushes: This involves taking enough Vitamin C that your body can no longer absorb it and it causes severe diarrhea.
  • Salt water flushes: Sometimes referred to as the "Master Cleanse," it involves drinking salt water, which has a laxative effect.

Keep in mind, however, that none of these methods are recommended by health authorities and you should always consult with your physician before doing them.

Colonics vs Enemas

Enemas involve a one-time infusion of water into the colon. By contrast, colonics involve multiple infusions. What's more, the main objective of an enema is to evacuate the lower colon, while colonics are meant to cleanse a larger portion of the bowel.

Perhaps the single most important distinction is that a colonic infers the use of specialized equipment administered by a trained hydrotherapist, while an enema can be performed by medical personnel or at home with a do-it-yourself kit purchased over the counter.

Colonics

Colonic irrigation is intended for medically indicated colon cleansing (for example, before a radiological examination). It usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour. During the procedure, you lie face up and the hydrotherapist inserts a disposable speculum into your anus.

This speculum is connected to a long disposable plastic hose, which is in turn connected to the colon hydrotherapy unit. The unit sends warm water into your colon, and the pressure promotes a reflexive contraction of the colon muscles, called peristalsis. This forces waste out of the colon, back through the hose, and into a closed disposal system.

Differences Between a Colonic and An Enema
Verywell / Gary Ferster

Enema

Often performed in the bathroom, enemas typically involve lying on your back and inserting the enema kit's nozzle several inches into the anus. This nozzle is connected to a tube that leads to a container holding the fluid for the infusion.

Releasing the tube's clamp initiates the flow of fluid into the rectum and stimulates peristalsis. The next step in an enema is to retain the fluid for several minutes, then sit on the toilet to expel it.

Holding It In

Referred to as "retention enemas," some treatments involve holding the liquid in the colon for extended periods of time. Several different types of retention enemas exist, including coffee enemas and those involving infusions of red raspberry leaf, probiotics, minerals, and other natural substances.


These methods are not recommended by health professionals, however, so always check with your doctor before choosing to try one.

Risks

Colonics and enemas do carry some potential side effects, risks, and complications.

After a colonic session, you may experience:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • A feeling of fullness or bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sores around the anus

Performing an enema at home can lead to:

  • Colon tissue damage
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Irritation and inflammation of the anus
  • Worsened constipation

Risks of a colon cleanse, using any method, include:

Contraindications

Colonics and enemas aren't safe for everyone. You should avoid them if you have conditions including:

You should also avoid these procedures if you're pregnant or have recently had colon surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does colon cleansing feel like?

Most people report little or no discomfort with a colonic, but you'll likely experience varying feelings of movement and fullness during the session. You may notice your abdomen becoming distended as the fluid is pumped in, and you might feel like you need to use the bathroom.

During an enema, you may also feel fullness, but probably less so than with a colonic because less liquid is used. You may feel a need to use the bathroom while you hold it in.

What do you eat while you're colon cleansing?

If you're cleansing your colon for a medical procedure, follow the directions given to you by the doctor or medical facility. You may need to fast or eat a restricted diet, such as only clear liquids, before the procedure.

If you're trying to improve colon health by eating certain foods, you can do so by:

  • Increasing your fruits and vegetables
  • Eating whole grains rather than refined ones, and focusing on non-bread sources
  • Reducing protein
  • Adding flax
  • Drinking lots of water

Why does colon cleansing cause cramping?

Cramping is a common side effect of colon cleansing because it can cause peristalsis, which is the involuntary constriction of the muscles in your intestine. The contractions cause a wave-like motion that pushes fecal matter through your digestive tract and out your anus.

A Word From Verywell

Despite the lack of medical evidence, you may hear the supposed benefits of a colon cleanse and think, "What can it hurt to try?" Remember that the side effects, risks, and complications are all possibilities, and certain health conditions can make it especially dangerous for you.

If you have a health problem and have wondered if a colon cleanse could help, talk to your doctor about treatment options that are proven safe and effective by medical science.

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Article Sources
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