Should we be cleaning from the inside out?

Kyara Bergstrom tells us why colonic cleansing (cleaning from the inside out) isn’t the best choice.


What is a colon and what does it do?

The colon is a long, muscular tube that is part of your digestive system. It removes water, salt and nutrients from the food you eat and the remaining solid waste forms a stool. The colon then moves the stool to be expelled through the rectum. The colon has healthy bacteria (microflora) which plays a role in protecting your body from infections and can help protect against cancer.

What is colonic cleansing?

We’ve all heard about it. There’s many names: colonic irrigation, colonic cleansing, colonic wash, colonic hydrotherapy, etc. During a colonic cleanse, large amounts of water with or without other substances (coffee, herbs etc.) is flushed through the colon, using a tube that is inserted into the rectum. There are different types: 

  • Colonic irrigation for colonoscopy (scope of the colon) prep. 
  • Coffee colonic irrigation – to remove toxins.
  • Others mixed with a variety of herbs to treat different ailments. 

But is colonic cleansing necessary and effective? 

Before a colonoscopy, it’s important to clear the colon so the surgeon can see the colon properly. This can be done with oral preparations, or a colonic irrigation (generally only use water) carried out by colonic hydrotherapists or colon therapists.Some studies have shown patients prefer the irrigation over the oral prep. 

The other ‘health colon washes’ are generally promoted to detox the body, eliminate fatigue, boost the immune system and aid in weight loss. The issue is there is very little research showing any benefits from these washes. Plus, they can be rather harmful. 

In 2011, researchers, in America, analysed studies and found no strong evidence to support this procedure/therapy. Our digestive system and colon already eliminates waste material and bacteria from our body. Our bodies are designed to do this. Some say doing colonic washes can upset the bacteria balance that we have in our colon. Most people take probiotics to maintain this balance. These washes not only get rid of bad bacteria but also the good bacteria we need in our gut.  

Colonic cleanse side effects

Possible side effects include (but not limited to):

  • Vomiting, nausea, cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Bowel perforation (a tear in the colon)
  • Infection
  • Depletion of probiotics, sodium and potassium
  • Kidney damage

Who should avoid it?

Patients with gastrointestinal diseases, 

for example, diverticulitis (inflammation or infection of small pouches along the walls of the intestines), Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease), history of colon surgery, and people who suffer with haemorrhoids should not have colonic washes. These mentioned conditions increase the risk of adverse effects. 

Patients with severe anaemia, heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, liver disease, and pregnant women should also avoid colonic washes.

If you have one, remember the following points:

  • Make sure to inform the therapist of any medical conditions you have.
  • Make sure the equipment is safe and sterilised properly (most equipment is not approved by the FDA).
  • Find out what has been added to the wash (herbs etc.) as quite a few herbs can cause problems.
  • Make sure the therapist performing the procedure is qualified.

What can you do to keep your colon healthy naturally?

  • Adopt a diet rich in fibre.
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit.
  • Limit the quantity of red meat you eat.
  • Drink water.
  • Have regular screenings. 

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Kyara Bergstrom is the head of research at Netcare Breast Care Centre. She is also the COO of the Pink Parasol Project (www.pinkparasol.co.za), a website-based directory listing conventional and complementary therapists and practitioners.

MEET OUR EXPERT – Kyara Bergstrom

Kyara Bergstrom is the head of research at Netcare Breast Care Centre. She is also the COO of the Pink Parasol Project (www.pinkparasol.co.za), a website-based directory listing conventional and complementary therapists and practitioners.


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