By Melissa Tennen, HealthAtoZ writer
You may have seen ads claiming that colon cleansing is necessary to help prevent diseases like colon cancer.
The bottom line? It's a waste of time and money. It won't prevent colon cancer - or any other diseases for that matter. In fact, colon cleansing may even hurt you.
There are two main types of colon cleansing. The first type is a powdered or liquid supplement. The other type is colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy, which involves inserting a rubber tube into the rectum and flushing it with water.
Holistic practitioners believe the colon is a sewage system and if it's not kept clean, waste products won't be cleared out and toxic substances will be absorbed into the body. They believe that the typical person may have as many as several pounds of fecal matter in their colon, which causes mucus to build up and harden on colon walls.
Science says this is not true. Your colon knows how to do its job, constantly shedding old cells, absorbing nutrients and keeping a delicate balance of bacteria and natural chemicals. Interfering with this process can hurt or destroy these relationships, meaning the colon won't work as well as it should. Colon cleansing is unnecessary, and medical doctors do not advise you to do this.
Another danger of colon cleansing is that if the equipment used to flush out your colon is not clean, you could end up with a bacterial infection.
Another possible problem is that people who get this treatment may absorb too much water. This could lead to a chemical imbalance in the body, feeling sick to your stomach, vomiting, heart failure and fluid in the lungs. There is also the risk of breaking the wall of the colon, which could kill you.
Skip the colon-cleansing supplements. As with all supplements, you won't know what you are getting. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate colonics, so manufacturers can make health claims that aren't supported by solid evidence. Chances are, you're wasting your money.
Colon cancer is very common. According the National Cancer Institute, it's the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. If you want to prevent colon cancer and find it early, do it the old-fashioned way:
- Get regular colon cancer screenings. Your doctor can tell you how soon by looking at your family history, age and medical history. Generally, at age 50 you should start getting screened regularly. Colon cancer needs to be caught very early, before symptoms happen.
- Eat a diet rich in fiber and low in fat. Studies show that people who eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet are less likely to develop colon cancer. A diet low in vitamin D may also increase the risk.
- Get regular exercise.
- Don't smoke. Some evidence suggests that smoking may increase the risk of colon cancer.
This article was reviewed and updated June 2007.