Georgetown University researchers say that the popular practice of colon cleansing may be both ineffective and dangerous.
In a study published this week in the Journal of Family Practice, scientists found little evidence of health any benefits from the practice. What they did find was a host of colon cleansing side effects, including reports of kidney failure and death.
The researchers conducted a review of about 20 studies on colon cleansing and found a history of colon cleansing problems that included cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance, kidney failure, aplastic anemia, liver toxicity, air emboli, rectal perforations, gangrene, water intoxication and deaths from amebiasis. However, they were unable to find any evidence that the procedures improved the health of patients in any way.
Colon cleansing is usually similar to an enema, except that it typically involves a much larger amount of fluid which is sometimes laced with coffee, sodium phosphate, herbs and other ingredients touted as all-natural. The premise is that the body can be poisoned by intestinal waste, a condition known as autointoxication. Colon cleansing is supposed to flush those poisons from the body.
Most colon cleansing formulas are considered dietary supplements and not under the direct jurisdiction of the FDA. Some devices used for endoscopic and radiologic procedure preparation are often used for colon cleansing. However, the devices have an FDA Class III designation, meaning that the manufacturer must obtain FDA approval before marketing them for non-medical uses like colon cleansing.
Over the last several years, the FDA has issued warning letters to a number of medical device makers over just this problem.
Researchers recommended that doctors warn patients that “[c]olon irrigation is not wise,” especially in patients with a history of gastrointestinal disease, colon surgery, kidney disease or heart disease, among others. They also recommended that patients be warned of the potential side effects of colon cleansing, indicating that patients should be alerted to the fact that there are no medically approved devices for colon cleansing and colon cleansing practitioners are not licensed “by any scientifically based organization.”