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Colon Cleansing vs. Healthy Diet


I am curious about colon cleansing.  I hear many good things about the 30-day plans with pills and teas and such, but I wonder, does a balanced diet provide the same effects?  Is this a good way to jump-start a healthy lifestyle?


This is an excellent question since colon cleansing is a recurrent rage.  A quick Google search will literally bring up hundreds of products that convincingly claim to cure everything from colon cancer to parasites.  However, the bottom line is that your money would be better spent on healthy, nutritious foods - fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.

Legitimate health care professionals typically do not recommend colon cleansing for better health or disease prevention.  The exception is prior to a medical examination of the colon when an enema is prescribed.  The success of the colon cleansing market is based mostly on anecdotal claims and there is a severe lack of research-based evidence gathered through appropriate research methodologies that support any of the publicized claims.  Anecdotal claims are not sufficient to evaluate the effectiveness of a product because any improvement seen in a given condition cannot be directly linked to the product and may be a result of improved diet, a placebo effect, or some other intervening condition.  At worst, some of these claims can be fictitious.

Our bodies do an amazing job of cleansing without the aid of external supplements or colonic irrigation.  If the bowel is normal and dietary fiber and fluid is adequate, the colon does not need any outside help.  After nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, the remaining water and waste material move into the large intestine (i.e., colon) where the majority of water and electrolytes are absorbed as the stool is moved through and eventually excreted.  Dietary fiber, along with fluid, will soften and increase the bulk of the stool, decrease transit time, and effectively remove waste from the colon.

There are two major colon-cleansing methods that are being promoted.  The first is colonic irrigation, which not only can be expensive, but can also be harmful.  This procedure involves flushing large amounts of water, and sometimes other substances, through the colon to remove purposed build-up.  Problems may arise from the use of poorly sanitized equipment that can transmit germs, perforations of the bowel, and electrolyte imbalances.

The second is a regimen utilizing supplements and/or teas for cleansing.  These herbal mixtures can cause nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea in some individuals.  This can lead to serious side effects such as dehydration, mineral imbalances and nutrient losses.  In addition, long-term use of laxative substances, even if herbal and all natural, can upset regular colon function.

As you suspected, a healthy balanced diet can provide all of the colon cleansing that you need without the risk — all for a reasonable price too!  Eat a varied diet that contains lots of fruits and vegetables.  Include whole grain cereals and breads, bran, and beans, and limit unhealthy fats and refined sweets.  Drink plenty of water and other low-calorie, non-caffeinated beverages such as herbal tea.  Prune juice can boost your bowels into action if needed.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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