Cedars-Sinai Blog

Ask a Doc: Are Colon Cleanses Healthy?

Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful?

Did you know that colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women and second leading cause of cancer death in the US?

It's important to take good care of your colon, the large intestine responsible for absorbing water and removing waste.

But how?

"Colon cleanses do not replace the need for regular screenings with your doctor."

Maybe you're thinking about trying a colon cleanse, also called colonic treatment, hydro colon therapy, colonic irrigation, or colon detox. These types of treatments are often advertised as a proactive approach to good colon health, but are there really medical benefits?

What is a colon cleanse?

Colon cleanses, which date back thousands of years, are usually done by a colonic hygienist.

During a colon cleanse, the hygienist inserts a tube into the rectum while you lie on a table.

A large amount of water is pushed through the tube to flush the colon. The water is then released through the colon in a way similar to a bowel movement.

What are the benefits?

Practitioners boast a variety of supposed health benefits, including removing toxins from the body, improving the immune system, helping with weight loss, improving digestion, boosting mood, and even reducing the risk of colon cancer.

"There are no established scientific benefits and in fact, there's actually risk when doing these treatments in a non-medical setting."

But is there any truth to these claims?

"The presumed health benefits of these treatments are not proven," says Dr. David Hoffman, medical oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Tower Hematology Oncology Medical Group.

"There are no established scientific benefits and in fact, there's actually risk when doing these treatments in a non-medical setting."

What are the risks of a colon cleanse?

There are several risks to be aware of before you try a colon cleanse.

These risks include:

  • Dehydration
  • Infection from contaminated instruments or facilities
  • Electrolyte imbalance in the colon
  • Tears in the bowel

It's also important to not confuse a colon cleanse with a colonoscopy screening, Dr. Hoffman says.

"Some people will mistakenly feel that doing a colonic is the equivalent to getting a coloscopy, and that is not the case," says Dr. Hoffman.

"Colon cleanses do not replace the need for regular screenings with your doctor."


Read: Dodging a Colonoscopy?


Still want to try a colon cleanse?

Dr. Hoffman suggests talking to your doctor and making sure you know your unique risk.

"We understand that many patients like to try alternative treatments that complement their traditional healthcare," Dr. Hoffman says.

"Speak to your doctor so you can understand your risk fully before seeking out this type of procedure."

You should also do your research and choose a provider who is reputable and safe. You can reduce your risk of infection by ensuring that your hygienist uses only new, disposable equipment and wears proper protective gear.


Read: Lifestyle and Cancer: Understanding the Connection


What are some proven ways improve colon health?

Limit alcohol and red meat consumption, avoid tobacco, exercise at least 3 times a week, and see your doctor regularly for colonoscopies starting at age 45.

To help lower your risk of colon cancer and improve colon health, you can also eat more fiber. Several studies have linked a fiber-rich diet to reduced risk of colon cancer.


Ready to schedule your colonoscopy? Call 1-800-CEDARS-1 to make an appointment.