American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

The Skinny on Colon Cleansing Diets

Image of colonEvery year there is a fad diet that promises quick results. Colon cleansing has become the new 'it' diet for some people seeking to lose pounds fast. Several colon-cleansing products claim to eliminate toxins from the body and speed up weight loss, but do they really work? Amy Foxx-Orenstein, DO, an osteopathic gastroenterologist specializing in motility disorders from Scottsdale, Arizona, explains the legitimacy of these claims and provides tips on enhancing colon health.

There are two main colon cleansing methods: one with powdered or liquid supplements (e.g. laxatives, herbal teas, enzymes, and magnesium); and another with colon irrigation (high colonics), a process which flushes several gallons of water through a small tube inserted into the rectum. "From colonics to cleansing diets such as the ‘master cleanse’ of lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper, colon cleansers should not be used regularly to detox the body," Dr. Foxx-Orenstein advises.

Common Side Effects

"Extended use of colon cleansing can cause uncomfortable side effects, such as cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting," Dr. Foxx-Orenstein explains. Other severe effects include:

  • Increased risk of dehydration

  • Bowel perforations

  • Increased risk of infection

  • Changes in electrolytes

"Colon cleansing is not recommended for detoxification; it is typically prescribed as preparation for medical procedures such as a colonoscopy," says Dr. Foxx-Orenstein. However, if you do choose to try colon cleansing, these precautions are advised:

  • Check with your primary health provider first, especially if you take any medications or have any health problems.

  • Verify that your colon-cleansing practitioner uses clean and disposable equipment.

  • Attain a list of specific herbal ingredients in your colon-cleansing product and discuss them with your doctor; some herbal supplements can cause health problems.

    • If you don't currently have a physician, consider a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, who will look beyond symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. Your DO will listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well.

  • Stay well hydrated by drinking lots of fluids while undergoing colon cleansing to prevent dehydration.

  • Do not use laxatives or colon irrigations long-term. They can irritate or upset the balance of your colon's good bacteria and interfere with normal bowel function.

Are the Claims True?

Proponents of colon cleansers believe that toxins from your gastrointestinal tract can cause a variety of health problems, such as allergies and asthma, fatigue, headaches, low energy and weight gain. They have claimed that colonic irrigation improves health by removing toxins, promoting healthy intestinal bacteria, boosting energy and enhancing the immune system. 

“Colon cleanses are not quick fixes and long-term use can potentially damage your health. There is no science to support these claims. In fact, there is no real need for these cleansers because your digestive system and bowel naturally eliminate waste material and bacteria; the colon cleanses itself,” Dr. Foxx-Orenstein points out.​​​​


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