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Cleansing and Detox

 –  Natural colon cleansing was practiced in ancient cultures including Greece and Egypt. There was a belief that colon cleansing, detoxification or colonic irrigation could remove the buildup of toxins, which could poison the body. The proposed benefits included improved energy, higher immunity and prevention or a reduction in symptoms of chronic disease including arthritis, allergies and asthma. These products have also been marketed to help with weight loss, treating acne and controlling acid reflux. In one large survey of naturopathic doctors in the United States, the majority relied on detoxification to treat patients for environmental exposures, general preventive medicine, gastrointestinal disorders and autoimmune disease.
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What are cleansing and detoxification?

Colon cleansing, colonic irrigation or detoxifications are frequently recommended by naturopathic practitioners to promote wellness by eliminating toxins from the colon. Toxins have been described as environmental substances including pesticides, chemicals or heavy metals. However, there is an overall lack of rigorous research studies to support these claims, even for general health promotion.

The colon is very efficient in its ability to conserve fluids and electrolytes while eliminating waste and toxins. Healthy bacteria line the colon and protect the body from infections. The colon does not need cleansing, irrigation or detoxification to perform these functions. In addition, there is a risk of serious side effects including dehydration, bowel perforations, infection or fluctuations in electrolytes.

What sorts of products are available for cleansing and detoxification?

Naturopathic doctors use a variety of techniques for colon cleansing, colonic irrigation or detoxification in an effort to remove toxins. There is a variety of approaches including dietary changes, the use of supplements or having a practitioner perform a colonic irrigation as follows:

  • Multi-day cleanses or dietary measures are followed for 2 to 4 weeks. They involve capsules or drink mixtures, coupled with a suggested diet that allows certain foods, restricts certain foods, or requests a decreased intake of food altogether.
  • Daily supplements or botanicals are taken regularly either for targeted organs such as the liver or for the entire body.
  • Colon cleanses include enemas, laxatives (stimulant and non-stimulant), herbal teas, coffee, herbs, probiotics, enzymes and magnesium. Laxatives may contain sodium phosphate, which can cause kidney damage or dehydration with the potential loss of sodium or potassium. Some colon irrigations involve inserting several gallons of water into the rectum after which waste is removed like a regular bowel movement. This method risks side effects including cramping, bloating, and nausea and vomiting. Side effects that are more serious include dehydration, bowel perforation and changes in electrolytes. These side effects may be harmful if you have kidney disease or other health problems. There are a number of precautions to remember if you are having this done. Check with your physician especially if you are taking prescription medications or have health problems. Use disposable equipment for one-time use. Check with your doctor regarding herbal supplements that can cause interactions and side effects. Finally, stay well hydrated to prevent dehydration.
It is important to know there is a lack of any scientific research to support the effectiveness of any of these methods.

Please consult with your doctor if you are interested in using a cleansing or detoxification system. These may not be safe for individuals with a history of chronic disease, health problems, who are taking prescription medications or have experienced dehydration or electrolyte changes after using any of these methods in the past.

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