The colon cleanse has been used throughout history to improve the body’s natural detoxification processes, restore digestive health and improve someone’s overall quality of life.
In fact, the use of water to cleanse tissue throughout the colon, called “colon lavage,” has been practiced since as early as 1500 B.C. in ancient Egypt.
How do you know if you could benefit from a colon cleanse?
Why Do a Colon Cleanse?
The colon is home to billions of microflora (bacteria) that actually make up approximately 70 percent of the dry weight of feces. Besides forming stool, the various beneficial bacterial organisms living within the colon and digestive tract are important for proper nutrient absorption, maintaining pH balance, controlling hunger and counteracting potentially dangerous bacteria. This is why a well-functioning colon is so important for overall well-being.
Are colon cleanses really necessary? While the digestive system has its own processes for removing waste, many people struggle with having regular, complete bowel movements due to various reasons like poor gut health, allergies, consumption of pesticide chemicals and inflammation within the digestive system.
Irritable bowel syndrome is estimated to affect about 15 percent to 20 percent of the adult population worldwide, while chronic constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in the world, affecting about 42 million people in the U.S. alone. (1) These problems are especially common among people with poor diets, women during pregnancy, older adults, people recovering from surgery and those taking medications.
If you’re not having at least one bowel movement every day, this makes you a good candidate for a colon cleanse. It’s well-known that a variety of health problems stem from poor digestive health — for example, stomach pains, abdominal cramps, chronic fatigue, constipation, low energy, headaches and allergic reactions can all be traced back partially to problems with waste elimination.
An impacted bowel can easily cause sluggishness, irritation, irritability, low energy, “brain fog” and changes in someone’s appetite. That’s because unreleased food and waste particles can cause mucus and bacteria to ferment and form in the colon, which might result in “toxins” being released back into the bloodstream when they’re circulated. Failing to have regular bowel movements also poses the risk for problems absorbing nutrients properly, which can lead to low energy and other complications.
How Colon Cleanses Work
The colon is the longest part of the large intestine, which is attached to the small intestine at one end and the anus at the other. The role of the colon is to eliminate stool from the body that’s made up of a combination of bacteria, water, unused nutrients, unneeded electrolytes and digested food. (2)
There are many different methods for performing a colon cleanse, which sometimes go under the names colonic, colonic irrigation, colon therapy or colonic hydrotherapy. You can also effectively flush the colon do something like a juice fast, salt water flush or performing an enema. Colon cleanses are split into two main categories: one type requires that a professional perform the cleanse, while the other involves using a solution or supplement at home.
One of the most common reasons someone would have a colonic done by a professional is because he or she is preparing for surgery or a medical procedure (such as colonoscopy) that requires the colon to be completely clear from accumulated waste. On the other hand, cleansing is commonly done at home using an enema, laxatives or herbal supplements (like senna) to relieve constipation, bloating and other digestive symptoms.
Many colon cleanses work by inserting a tube into the rectum followed by large amounts of water, which makes its way through the colon. The water carries out any matter that might be dry and lodged in place. The exact amount of water or other type of liquid that’s used depends on the specific type of colon-cleansing method. Colonics, for example, can use up to 16 gallons (about 60 liters) of water at one time!
What Are the Benefits of a Colon Cleanse?
While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence, considering colon cleanses have been done since Ancient Greek times, according to the American Journal of Gastroenterology,there haven’t been many well-controlled studies done in humans to prove the benefits of a cleanse. (3) That being said, millions of people over the years have found relief from doing colon cleanses, and when done safely and correctly, they shouldn’t pose many risks. For people who haven’t found lasting relief from things like laxatives or prescriptions, a colon cleanse can finally help bring about regular bowel movements and decrease symptoms.
Studies show that bowel movements are important for removing bacteria, heavy metal detox or eliminating excess fatty acids from the body. A colon cleanse can also impact the nervous system positively, which is why it might help symptoms like anxiety and fatigue.
That’s right — your poop can affect your mood! That’s because nerves in the bowel communicate to the brain and affect chemical signals sent via the entire central nervous system throughout the body. (4) A well-functioning colon therefore is important for hormonal balance, appetite control, sleep and mental processing.
Certain enemas might also be able to help the body absorb nutrients better. When doing a colon cleanse using coffee, for example, antioxidants and caffeine travel via the hemorrhoidal vein to the liver. Together, they can help open up blood vessels, improve circulation, relax smooth muscles that control bowel movements, and increase production of bile that’s needed for proper digestion and excretion. (5)
How Different Colon Cleanses Compare
Colon cleanses and colonics can take anywhere from 20–90 minutes, depending on which kind you decide to try. Some people react more quickly and experience better results than others, but keep in mind that colon cleanses might become more effective and easier the more often you do them. At first, it might seem difficult to insert much liquid and hold it in, but you might find colon cleanses become more beneficial as you learn how to do them properly with practice.
To understand the different options you have in regard to various colon cleanses, it helps to have some background of how different types work and affect your digestive system. First off, keep in mind that water isn’t the only substance used during colon cleansing. Various saline formulas, herbs or acidic solutions are also used to flush waste.
Here’s the basics of how popular colon cleanse techniques work:
- Colonics have been performed for over 100 years and are done by hygienists or colon hydrotherapists. These treatments are sometimes called “colon irrigation” and are normally done at a treatment center outside the home. (6)
- Colonics use a high quantity of water to flush the colon. They usually require the most water of all colon cleanses — for example, about the same amount you’d use if you performed 12 enemas.
- Of all colon cleanses, they’re thought to be one of the most productive and thorough, since they target the entire colon. The drawback is that they’re performed by a professional outside the home and take about one to two hours in total for each session. This can become costly since each session can cost $50 or more.
- There are several types of colonics available, including those that use gravity and pressurized machines. A gravity colonic is the most basic and uses water that enters the colon by force of gravity, as opposed to a machine. Gravity colonics are done by controlling the in and out flow of water into the rectum while massaging the abdomen to help break up stool and encourage the muscles to relax and release.
- During a colonic you lay flat on a table and the professional inserts a lubricated, small speculum into your colon, which is attached to two tubes that control the release of water in and out. Often you will be left alone, given the option to help control the release of the liquid yourself. You might also be able to view what’s coming out if you’d like to. After the colonic is over, you can use the bathroom until you’re comfortable.
- Pressurized colonics are different than gravity-controlled ones because the flow is controlled by a machine, which makes them a bit less gentle.
Colonics vs. Enemas
- Compared to colonics, which are done at a clinic and the under supervision of a professional, enemas can be performed at home in private. This makes enemas an attractive option for people who aren’t very comfortable with the idea of visiting a specialist for this matter. They’re also inexpensive, and kits can be bought at any drug store.
- Enemas work by cleansing the colon with liquid (usually water), which helps flush out accumulated waste. Compared to colonics, they’re usually milder and target a specific region of the colon (the left side, or descending colon) as opposed to the whole colon.
- It’s easiest and most common to perform an enema with water, but you can also do one using a saline solution, apple cider vinegar, hydrogen peroxide or even coffee, believe it or not.
- To perform an enema, you insert the pointed tip into your own colon, control the release of liquid, and then lay down and wait until you have the urge to use the bathroom, which might happen several times over the course of one to two hours.
- Hydrotherapy is the term for “the use of water to treat a disease or to maintain health.” The idea behind hydrotherapy is that water itself has healing abilities, and when combined with other substances like coffee or salt, it also supplies essential nutrients like various antioxidants or trace minerals.
- The use of water in hydrotherapy to cleanse the colon is basically the same as an enema or colonic. The water helps expel waste, can relieve constipation, improve energy levels, treat dehydration and sometimes provide important minerals safely.
Are Colon Cleanses Safe?
Amazingly in the U.K, where practitioners carry out over 5,600 colon irrigations each month, no serious side effects have been reported. Naturally cleaning the colon with water is safe for most people, but it’s not for everyone
If you’re pregnant, have active hemorrhoids, suffer from kidney disease or are dehydrated, it’s possible for colon cleansing to cause side effects like weakness or dizziness, cramping, bloated stomach, nausea, and vomiting. (7) When a cleanse is done too often, it can lead to an electrolyte imbalance or make the rectum susceptible to tears and bleeding. It’s also crucial to use sanitary equipment in order to reduce the risk for bacteria transfer and a possible infection.
To start, I recommend not performing a colon cleanse or enema more than once weekly. Check with a doctor if you plan to do one more often, especially if you’re trying to treat a specific condition or taking medications. Always get your doctor’s opinion if you have a form of IBS such as Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis or ulcerative colitis.
It’s also a good idea to take a probiotic supplement after a colon cleanse to help repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria. Additionally, make sure to drink plenty of water and consume foods that supply electrolytes, like vegetables and fruit. This helps prevent kidney, liver or heart problems, which can develop when you fall short in water, salt or electrolytes like magnesium or potassium, for example.
When it comes to using laxatives or herbs for cleansing colon, some are safer than others. I recommend trying natural laxatives such as herbal supplements like aloe vera, collagen protein, magnesium, psyllium husk and triphala. These tend to be gentler than over-the-counter laxatives, nourish the digestive tract and help produce regular bowel movements. Always monitor your reactions and check for signs of dehydration, like muscle weakness, dizziness or excessive thirst, even when using natural supplements.
How to Do a Colon Cleanse the Right Way
First and foremost, bear in mind that the single best way to detox and cleanse the colon is by removing harmful substances in your diet and eating nutrient-dense, real foods. Packaged foods, fast foods, processed snacks and artificial ingredients (high fructose syrups, hydrogenated oils, dangerous food dyes, fake seasonings, MSG or preservatives) all make it harder for the digestive system to work properly and raise inflammation in the colon. The kinds of foods you want to eat for optimal colon health include:
- fermented foods that contain probiotics (yogurt, cultured veggies like kimchi or sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha)
- high-fiber foods like seeds, leafy greens and other fresh veggies
- fresh fruit (especially berries, or apples and pears, which contain pectin fiber)
- bone broth
- healthy fats like coconut or extra virgin olive oil, plus avocados (very high in electrolytes and fiber)
- veggie-based soups, smoothies and salads are high in fiber and water, plus easy to digest
If having a colonic done:
Colonics should always be done under the supervision of a qualified professional who’s licensed and trained. It’s important to follow directions and instructions carefully and to ensure all equiptment is completely sanitary. Colonics aren’t usually recommended for pregnant women or children or people with kidney problems or bad hemorrhoids.
What can you expect when getting a colonic? This type of colon cleanse shouldn’t cause pain or feel overly uncomfortable because the practitioner will likely use a lubricant to help insert the device into the rectum. Likely, you’ll feel some pressure during the process and need several hours to feel back to normal once it’s done.
If using an enema:
To perform an enema (whether it’s a coffee enema, one with apple cider vinegar or another formula) you need to first purchase a kit, which comes with an insert of some kind and a bag or bucket to hold the liquid. The part that you insert into your rectum is attached to a clamp that controls the release of whichever kind of liquid you use from the bag or bucket. If you’re willing to spend more money, you’ll get a better quality product that has a clasp, which is more capable of stopping and controlling the release of the liquid.
If you plan to perform enemas somewhat regularly, you can purchase a reusable kit instead of a one-time bottle. Some find that buying an enema kit that includes a bucket is a bit easier to use, since a bag requires that you hang it from somewhere elevated, such as a towel rack in your bathroom. Many people find that buckets are also easier to clean than bags, although kits with buckets can cost a bit more (anywhere from $10–$60 depending on the kind).
Stainless steel buckets are preferred by many over plastic buckets or bags since they’re sanitary and can be reused, but a bag is a good, inexpensive option if you plan to throw it away after performing the enema or if you’re traveling.
Once you have your materials sanitized, gathered and you’re prepared, follow this step-by-step guide to perform a homemade enema at home safely:
- Prepare your liquid, whether it’s coffee, a premade solution or filtered water. Filtered water is highly recommended by most experts and might offer fewer risks than tap water (which contain traces of minerals or chemicals). If you’re using a warm liquid like coffee, let the mixture cool down to a little warmer than room temperature.
- Choose a location that’s comfortable where you can lie down for about 15 minutes. The bathroom is a popular choice since it’s easiest to be close to a toilet. Keep extra towels and cleaning products on hand to clean up if need be.
- Take your enema kit and place the bucket or bag at least one meter above you and the ground so it has the force of gravity to push out the liquid. Pour your liquid into the enema bag or bucket, and hold the tube and nozzle shut.
- Locate the lever on the tube and nozzle that helps you stop and start the flow of the enema. Use a lubricant such as coconut oil to coat the tip of the enema nozzle, and then lay down on your right side in fetal position and insert the nozzle into your rectum. Try to insert it about one inch inside.
- Use the valve that helps you start the flow of the liquid, slowly releasing the liquid into your rectum through the nozzle. Sit however you are most comfortable for about 15–30 minutes, holding it in until you’re ready to use the bathroom.