Should You Try a Colon Cleanse for IBS?

What you should know before you try 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 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.

Types of Colon Cleansers

There are two basic 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 engage in fasting or follow a special, restricted diet. Ingredients may include:

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.

Advocates of colon cleansing, however, maintain that over time the colon becomes lined with aged fecal matter which 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 list a myriad of health benefits of cleansing and see it as a remedy for a wide variety of chronic health conditions:

The Problem

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. On the other hand, the proponents of colon cleansing are a very vocal group. If you do decide to try a colon cleanse, 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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