Think about pimple-popping videos for a minute—that satisfaction you get from taking something that is clogged and, uh, unclogging it.
Now, apply those same thoughts to your colon—you know, that tube-like organ in your body responsible for helping you get rid of waste. That “unclogged” feeling is what some people are after when they get a colon cleanse.
But just like with pimple-popping, colon cleanses, a.k.a. colonics, might not be the best move.
Just a sec…what exactly is a colon cleanse?
A colon cleanse is a way of flushing the colon and ridding it of stool, according to Rudolph Bedford, M.D., gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. The process involves ingesting a laxative (herbal or otherwise) or signing up for colon hydrotherapy where a tube gently shoots water into the rectum “to irrigate the colon.”
But before you hit up your doctor’s office, you should note that colon cleanses don’t happen there—instead, they usually occur in spaces that specialize in alternative medicine. They aren’t typically performed by medical doctors, but rather, therapists that have been certified by either the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy or the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy.
What you can get from your doctor, according to Bedford, is a colonoscopy, and while it sounds similar, it’s not the same thing. (Colonoscopies are procedures which doctors use to look inside your rectum and colon for inflammation, ulcers, polyps, and cancer.)
Well, is a colon cleanse good for your health?
While colonoscopies are necessary for your health (anyone over 50 should start screening, FYI), colon cleanses are not—and might even be harmful.
“There’s a belief that a [colon cleanse] detoxifies the colon, and essentially removes ‘harmful bacteria,’” says Bedford. They’re thought to be able to “somehow increase energy, improving circulation, clearing your skin, [providing for] mental clarity, normalizing your weight,” he adds. But none of those claims are backed by science, says Bedford.
The colon is literally meant to store your waste, and it rids itself of toxins, when you, you know, poop regularly, so there’s nothing necessary about a colonic.
In addition to being totally pointless, colon cleanses might also be harmful. Taking too many laxatives over the course of a few years (if you get regular colon cleanses, for example), could “make your colon lazy,” says Bedford—possibly to the point where you may not even be able to poop without one.
As for the hydrotherapy—a.k.a., the forceful stream of water used to clean out the colon—”if water is passed through the colon too aggressively, you can potentially injure the colon,” says Bedford, adding that having someone who isn’t a medical professional pass a tube through your colon could also injure the colon’s wall.
So, should I get a colon cleanse or nah?
If you’re still thinking about getting a colon cleanse after this, definitely reconsider. Instead, if you’re feeling backed up, try an over-the-counter laxative, says Bedford—again, only as directed on the box. You can also add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet for added fiber (that stuff helps move your digestive system along the healthy, natural way).
If you’re still worried about your digestive health for whatever reason, book an appointment with your general doctor or a gastroenterologist, says Bedford. An actual medical professional will be able to offer you treatments that are safe and effective—but just stay away from those wielding pressurized butt hoses, deal?
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