Ever so often, one of you will ask me, “Doc, what you think about a washout?” And many of you often wonder whether your “lautat” isn’t caused by either dirty blood or a need to cleanse your intestinal tract.

According to some alternative health advocates, just as routinely as you brush your teeth or wash your clothes, you should be regularly cleaning your colon as well. In fact, some people are making a great deal of money persuading people that their colons are packed with several years’ worth of decaying waste and that a colon cleanser will solve the problem. Colon cleansers come in a variety of forms, including capsules, laxatives, enemas, and “high colonics” which flush large amounts of water through the intestines.

Some say that artificial cleansers are big business. To get an idea just how big, just type “colon cleansers” into any search engine, like Google; you might be surprised.

But it turns out that, when taken to extremes, an obsession with inner purification can be harmful.

COLON CLEANSERS: DIRTY BUSINESS

Colon cleansing is based on the theory that waste collects in the colon over time and stagnates there, causing toxins to form and spread throughout the body – a phenomenon known as “autointoxication”. The truth is that many 19th century doctors accepted autointoxication as fact. Scientific research as far back as the 1920’s failed to confirm it, but the misconception persists. Other colon cleanser advocates insist that the accumulated stool blocks the colon, preventing the proper elimination of waste.

TRUE OR FALSE?

Experts agree that there is no such thing as autointoxication, and that the human body is actually very good at taking care of itself. Some say it’s just a strange fad. The kidneys and lungs remove toxins and by-products from the blood stream and regular bowel movements remove any waste products from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Some experts say further that high colonics are often touted as a way to cleanse the colon of adherent stool that has been there for years or even decades, but that the problem with this concept is that there is no such thing. The body does a good job of eliminating stool, and there are no ‘pockets’ in the colon that collect stool for years. Gastroenterologists will tell you that when they do colonoscopies (examine the colon with a lighted flexible tube with a camera), a preprocedure purge is sufficient to clean out the stool and leave a brand new looking colon.

COLON CLEANSER CAUTIONS

Not only aren’t they unnecessary, but colon cleansers may even cause harm. You see, your intestines aren’t just a waste disposal unit, they’re also a place where nutrients from food are absorbed into the bloodstream, to be transported throughout your entire body. Washing out the intestinal track could potentially interrupt the absorption, leaving you with vitamin or mineral deficiencies. In addition, frequent use of some types of laxatives can have a boomerang effect, so that cleaning your colon could leave it less able to do its job the way nature intended.

Another problem with colon cleansers is that they can lead to dehydration. Moreover, high colonics can potentially harm the colon, causing small tears or internal damage.

Besides, colon cleansers have no proven safety record. They are not strictly regulated and tested the way prescription drugs are, and do not have to go through rigorous scrutiny by the American FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

HEALTHY COLON CLEANSERS

A healthy diet that includes enough fiber and water is nature’s way of cleansing your colon. A diet low in fiber and water, on the other hand, usually results in constipation. You can think of fiber as acting like a toothbrush passing through your colon, so everyday that you meet your recommended daily dose – between 21 and 25 grams per day for adult women and 30 to 38 grams for adult men – you’re really consuming a colon cleanser. Increase your fiber intake slowly by adding fruits, vegetables, beans and high fiber cereal. Keeping your body moving as mush as possible is also important. Physical activity increases blood flow throughout the body, and the better your blood flows, the easier it is for your colon to work efficiently.

THE TRUTH ABOUT COLON CLEANSERS

They may provide temporary relief if you’re constipated, and yes they will cleanse your colon of its contents, but they can also be dangerous, expensive and inconvenient. The bottom line is: Your colon knows its job; leave it alone and it will take care of itself.

See you next week.

Dr. Victor Emanuel has been an educator of medical professionals in training, and the public, for over 20 years in Dominica. The contents of his articles are based on facts and research conducted, and not of his opinion.