As far as the human body goes, efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to handling food and waste, and the colon prevents most harmful substances from affecting the body. Additionally, the colon sloughs off cells and regenerates new ones every three days or so. Waste purged from your intestines through colon cleansing may appear to be some long-lasting blockage, but more than likely it's no more than a week old and would have passed from your body in due time without intervention.
There hasn't been enough study of their effectiveness or risk to say with any certainty whether colon cleansing is generally good or bad for you. Plenty of people swear by it, and skepticism in the medical community abounds largely from a history of exaggerated claims on behalf of colon cleansing. While the procedure won't fulfill the promises of certain grandiose claims, it may aid the body in more modest measures.
If you've decided on a colonic irrigation, be prepared to pony up anywhere from $50 to $175. The most important thing to do is to find a place that uses sterile equipment and a properly trained practitioner. If you take these precautions, it's generally considered a safe procedure, but it can cause nausea, infection and your body's misidentification of cleansing additives as harmful invaders. (It can also be uncomfortable.) The large influx and removal of water in the body makes dehydration a possibility, as well as electrolyte imbalance that can potentially lead to heart failure. Rectal perforation is also a risk, but few occurrences as a result of colon cleansing have been recorded.
As far as the results of the procedure go, if you find parasites present in the waste removed during colon cleansings, you need to see a doctor who can analyze a stool sample and recommend a course of action, in addition to preventive measures. Don't assume you've solved the parasitic problem.
Just as it has been for about a century, the medical jury is still out on colon cleansing. While pointing to an absence of scientific testing of the procedure's purported benefits, the medical establishment has also neglected to produce much in the way of research on this technique.
The bottom line? Colon cleansing probably isn't necessary, but it's not necessarily a bad idea -- as long as it's safely performed by a skilled practitioner using clean equipment.
Want more on the inner workings of your digestive system (and the history of medical quackery) while you're at it? Try the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Barrett, Stephen, M.D. "Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, Laxatives, and More." (Oct. 14, 2009)http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/gastro.html
- Evans, Kim. "Swine Flu: Protect Yourself and Loved Ones." The Huffington Post. May 2, 2009. (Oct. 16, 2009)
- Handley, Doug V.; Rieger, Nick A.; Rodda, David J. "Rectal perforation from colonic irrigation administered by alternative practitioners." The Medical Journal of Australia. 2004; 181 (10): 575-576. http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/181_10_151104/letters_151104-3.html
- Lee, Dennis, M.D. "Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)." (Oct. 13, 2009) http://www.medicinenet.com/small_intestinal_bacterial_overgrowth/article.htm
- Lee, Eric, M.D. "Colonoscopy." (Oct. 12, 2009)http://www.medicinenet.com/colonoscopy/article.htm
- Martin, Andrew. "In Live Bacteria, Food Makers See a Bonanza." The New York Times. Jan. 22, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/22/business/22yogurt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Giardia infection (giardiasis)." (Oct. 15, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/giardia-infection/DS00739/DSECTION=causes
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Pinworm infection." Feb. 23, 2008. (Oct. 15, 2009)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pinworm/DS00687
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Getting to know 'Friendly Bacteria.'" 2006.http://nccam.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2006_summer/bacteria.htm
- Natural Standard. "Colonic Irrigation." Aetna InteliHealth. (Oct. 14, 2009) http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/8513/34968/358752.html?d=dmtContent
- Picco, Michael, M.D. "Colon cleansing: Is it helpful or harmful?" WebMD. Mar. 25, 2009. (Oct. 13, 2009)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/colon-cleansing/AN00065
- Picco, Michael, M.D. "Digestion: How long does it take?" Aug. 8, 2008. (Oct. 14, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/digestive-system/AN00896
- Richards, Douglas G., Ph.D. "Colonic Irrigations: A Review of the Historical Controversy and the Potential for Adverse Effects." Meridian Institute. Sep. 2004. http://www.meridianinstitute.com/reports/Colonic_Irrigation_Full_Review.pdf
- Schneider, Karen. "How Clean Should Your Colon Be?" American Council on Science and Health. Feb. 27, 2003.http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.194/news_detail.asp
- The Office of the Attorney General (Texas). "Attorney General Abbott Sues ' Colonic Hydrotherapy ' Providers For Abuse Of Medical Devices; One Death Reported." Dec. 1, 2003.http://www.oag.state.tx.us/oagnews/release.php?id=295
- WebMD. "Natural Colon Cleansing: Is it Necessary?" (Oct. 15, 2009) http://www.webmd.com/balance/natural-colon-cleansing-is-it-necessary