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Is a colon cleanse really a good thing for your health?

Is a colon cleanse really a good thing for your health?

Colon cleansing, also called colonic irrigation or a “colonic,” is promoted on TV and in magazines for weight loss, preventing bloating, removing toxins from the body, lowering blood pressure and giving skin a natural glow, among other alleged health benefits. The reality, though, is different.

Read on as our LCMC Health experts share the facts about colon cleansing and how your colon works.

The colon’s role in keeping things rolling

Your colon, also called the large intestine, serves an important role in the digestive process. When you eat, food starts in your mouth and moves into the esophagus before traveling through your stomach, small intestine and then the colon.

By the time that food makes its way into the colon, it’s mostly liquid because it has been broken down in the stomach and small intestine. This liquid is absorbed into the colon itself, and bacteria in the colon break down anything remaining. From there, the waste moves into the rectum and then out of the body.

As you read about how the digestive process works, you’ll notice that the body does the cleaning work on its own. The important components of food, including nutrients, are absorbed by the body during digestion and then the waste exits the body, with no outside help needed.

Fact vs. fiction: Cleaning the colon

Colon cleansing products, promoted as “natural colon cleansing,” are seemingly everywhere. While its use of water, injected into the rectum to stimulate a bowel movement, may seem to approximate the natural process, colon cleansing goes against the way your body naturally works.

Colon cleansing claims often include mention of improving your immune system and your colon health, but cleanses can cause a number of side effects, including a disrupted digestive system and dehydration.

Colon cleansing is especially risky for those with certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease or a digestive condition like diverticulitis, since those conditions can cause serious health issues such as dehydration, kidney failure, heart failure and pancreatitis.

What you can do to keep the colon healthy

If colon cleansing isn’t your best move, what can you do to keep your colon healthy and your digestive system running smoothly? Some simple steps can go a long way.

First, talk with your doctor at your next checkup about your risk of colorectal cancer and when you should begin screening for the condition. Current guidelines recommend beginning routine colorectal screening at age 45 for those at average risk of colon cancer, but you may need earlier or more frequent screening.

Preparing for a colonoscopy, the most common type of screening, requires clearing the digestive system with the specific purpose of allowing a gastroenterologist to get a clear view of the colon.

You can also take other steps to protect your colorectal health. Many of the lifestyle habits needed for good overall health are also beneficial for your colon, so exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke and limit your alcohol consumption.

What you eat also matters. You can give your colon health a boost and help your digestive system work smoothly by eating a diet that prioritizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These foods contain a good amount of fiber, which helps keep things moving through the digestive system. Limit your intake of processed meats like hot dogs and red meat, which have been tied to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Taking these steps can help you keep your colon—and your body—at its best, no colon cleanse required.

Due for a colonoscopy or want to have some tummy troubles investigated? Make an LCMC Health gastroenterologist your next call.