What You Should Know About Colon Cleanses if You Have IBS

Why Western medicine does not promote this technique

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There's no shortage of ads promoting colon cleansing, which may have you wondering if a colon cleanse is a safe thing to try for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The ads promise all sorts of wonderful results, but can they be believed? Make an informed decision about whether colon cleansing is right for you with this overview of colon cleansing products and services.

First, better understand what colon cleanses do and the types of colon cleanses available.

Then, understand their so-called benefits and possible risks.

Types of Colon Cleansers

If you've never turned to a colon cleanse in a bid to alleviate the symptoms of your IBS, you likely don't know how these products work. There are basically two ways to "clean out" your colon:

Colon Cleansing Products

These products include detoxifying teas or supplements in capsule form. Often these products come with a recommendation that you fast or follow a special, restricted diet. Know that changing your diet may affect your IBS. If you have constipation-dominant IBS, for example, fasting could make your constipation worse. Also, take note of the common ingredients found in colon cleansing teas and capsules. They may include:

  • Bentonite clay
  • Citric acid

Colon Hydrotherapy (High Colonics)

This type of colon cleanse involves a procedure conducted by a colon hydrotherapist. During colon hydrotherapy, a tube is inserted into your rectum as you lie flat on a table. Water is then pumped into your colon, flushing out its contents. Additives such as vitamins, probiotics, enzymes, herbs or coffee may be added to the water.

The procedure typically lasts from 45 minutes to one hour. 

Purported Benefits of Colon Cleanses for IBS

First, it should be made clear that colon cleansing is not a Western medicine tradition. This means that Western doctors routinely advise patients not to opt for a colon cleanse. Some alternative medicine practitioners and those from other cultures recommend colon cleanses due to the belief that over time the colon becomes lined with fecal matter that contains toxins and prevents the large intestine from functioning properly. Colon cleansing is thought to clear out this unhealthy stool along with bacteria and parasites.

Proponents tout several health benefits of cleansing and see it as a remedy for a wide variety of chronic health conditions. In addition, they believe colon cleanses can ease the following symptoms, many of which people with IBS have: 

Risks and Criticisms of Colon Cleanses

Since fecal matter is something that most people consider to be disgusting, it is easy to buy into the theory that dried up stool is building up in our intestines and wreaking havoc on our GI tract. But gastroenterologists, who spend considerable time observing normal and diseased colons, do not routinely observe such aged fecal matter in the colons of patients who haven't had a cleanse.

There are also three major limitations to the colon cleansing theory:

There is no scientific evidence: There is no evidence that the lining of our intestines becomes caked with leftover fecal matter, nor are there any well-run studies that support the claims that colon cleansing enhances health or is effective as a treatment for ongoing health problems.

Cleaning out bacteria may be harmful: Bacteria in our large intestines are essential for digestive and overall health. Cleansing out this bacteria may upset the body's own finely tuned bacterial balance.

Safety issues: Colon cleansing is not without risk.

Certain forms of stimulant laxatives found in teas and supplements have been associated with serious short-term and long-term health problems. Risks of colon hydrotherapy include perforation of the bowel and potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances.

The Bottom Line

Without solid evidence of benefits, it just doesn't make sense to mess with your colon, even if the proponents of colon cleansing are a very vocal group. If you're determined to try a colon cleanse any way, it is essential that you first get clearance from your doctor to make sure there's nothing in your health history that would put you at more risk during a cleanse.  

Sources:

Kurtzweil, P. "Dieter's Brews Make Tea Time A Dangerous Affair" FDA Consumer 1997.

Puetz, T. "Is There a Health Benefit from High Colonics?" International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Fact Sheet 2008.

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