Digestive complaints, such as constipation, can lead to the build-up of waste in the large intestine and bowel. But can a colon cleanse help?
The term colon cleanse refers to the removal of waste and toxins from the large intestine. Two of the main objectives of doing this are to reduce stomach bloating and relieve constipation.
Although there’s insufficient scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of colon cleansing routines, many people swear by detox products and procedures.
However, they should only be used as short-term or one-off solutions. If your symptoms are causing you to flush out your large intestine regularly, you’re advised to talk to a dietitian or your GP rather than relying on a colon cleansing routine.
What is a colonic or colon cleanse?
Most colon cleansing products claim to remove harmful substances from the walls of the large intestine. There are two main methods.
- A procedure called colon hydrotherapy. It’s also known as colonic irrigation. This involves using water to flush waste material out of the bowel via a tube inserted into the rectum1.
- A natural colon cleanse – This uses Products that you take by mouth. For example, there are supplements, laxatives, juice diets and herbal teas that claim to have a detoxifying effect on the colon.2
- A colon cleanse is a procedure that clears harmful substances from the walls of the large intestine.
- There are two main methods. Colon hydrotherapy, which is known as colon irrigation, and products which are taken by mouth such as supplements and laxatives.
The colon cleanse procedure
Colon irrigation is a simple three-step process.3
Water is painlessly inserted into the rectum
Water is then filtered around the colon
The water is then used to hydrate the colon by drenching faeces and digest food sitting within it in order to flush it out
Cleansing the colon can help with many conditions and symptoms, these include:
- Irregular bowel movement
- Skin breakouts
- Trapped wind
However, many people will cleanse their colon for wellbeing and to rid the body of any debris, trapped wind and toxins.
- The colon cleanse is a procedure that painlessly inserts water into the rectum, which is then filtered around the colon, the water is then filtered around the colon to flush out any unwanted waste and toxins.
What comes out during a colon cleanse
Over 16 litres of water, or even in some cases coffee and water are flushed through the colon. It then works to flush out fecal matter and undigested food to purify the colon.4
Does colonic irrigation work for constipation?
Enemas and colon irrigation will remove body waste. But they're not an effective way to prevent or cure constipation.
Is it the same as gut cleansing?
Yes, gut cleansing and colon cleansing are the same thing. Both are thought to improve your gut hygiene by flushing out toxins and excess waste.
Is it the same as a colon flush?
The aim with both approaches is to force waste through the digestive system. By cleaning the colon it’s suggested stools will pass easily, reducing discomfort.
There are also a wide range of other suggested wellness benefits, from boosting energy levels to weight loss. But there’s insufficient scientific evidence at the moment to back up the theory.
Does the colon need cleaning?
For most people, the colon does a good job naturally. Clearing waste is, after all, a key function of this lower end of the gut.
The large intestine (or colon) is a key part of your digestive system. This long, muscular tube removes water, salt and nutrients from the food you eat. The waste that remains moves through the colon before it’s passed as a stool. This process helps maintain a healthy microbiome (or balance of bacteria) in your large intestine.5
But sometimes things don’t work as well as they should for some reason.
When faeces build up in the large intestine for too long, constipation and bloating can happen. And this is when people can find detoxing provides relief by getting things moving again.
A colon cleansing product can stimulate bowel movements, providing short term relief. Anecdotal evidence suggests, for many, it gets the job done and gets things back on track.
However, it’s suggested that a frequent, drastic cleansing routine could change the constitution of the microbiome in your colon. So, by over-detoxing you could actually remove bacteria that keeps this lower section of your gut healthy.
It’s also important to note that there are many side effects associated with overdoing colon cleansing. From nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea and dehydration, to more serious damage to the kidneys and bowel.
- Generally, the colon does a good job of cleaning itself. However, for people who regularly get constipation it can be beneficial.
How to empty bowels completely
If you are struggling with going to the toilet or constipation there are three methods recommended by the NHS acute services division.6
3 of the best ways to empty your bowels
- Drink more fluids
You should look to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day in order to keep your digestive system active and help empty your bowels regularly.
- Healthy lifestyle
It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep your bowels active. It is important to eat properly and try not to skip meals, particularly breakfast. Physical activity, such as walk or running could help relieve any issues you may have.
The above should work to relieve any constipation, however, in some cases, your GP may prescribe a laxative. There are a number of laxatives on the market and you should ask your GP for the best solution depending on your situation.
Colon cleanse naturally
This depends on what’s driving you to seek a colon cleanse. If the end goal for you is to relieve constipation, it’s worth considering how changes to your diet could instead encourage regular bowel movements and ease the passing of stools.
Colon cleanse diet
- A high fibre diet
How much fibre do you need in a healthy, balanced diet?
UK government guidelines recommend an adult daily dietary fibre intake of 30g.6,7
In reality, most adults only eat an average of about 18g per day. Finding ways to increase fibre in your diet could help to relieve (and prevent) constipation by aiding digestion.
To measure fibre intake, you’ll have to closely inspect nutritional labels on food. But to give you an idea, here’s the fibre content of some popular foods.
The amount of fibre in some common foods:
- Two slices of wholemeal bread – 3.5g
- Small bowl of muesli – 2g
- Small apple – 1.3g
- Half an avocado – 2.6g
- 5 dried dates – 3g
- 1 medium pear – 3.3g
- 1 medium banana – 1.1g
- Baked beans (2 tablespoons) – 3g
- 2 spears of broccoli – 2.4g
- Carrots (2 tablespoons) – 2g
- Boiled lentils (2 tablespoons) – 1.5g
- Small baked potato (skin on) – 2.7g
However, it’s important to note, that if your bloating and constipation are caused by a digestive condition (e.g. IBS, colitis or Crohn’s disease) increasing fibre intake could make symptoms worse. Always discuss any changes to your diet with a GP first.
- Increase water intake
Water and other fluids help your body absorb nutrients by breaking down food. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is a great way to regulate digestion. The NHS Eatwell Guide recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day.8
Water also helps fibre to pass through the digestive tract. So, if you’re increasing fibre to help with constipation, it’s essential that you also increase your water intake.
Adding probiotics (or friendly bacteria) to your diet could replicate some of the action of a colon cleanse. By eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods, you can introduce good bacteria to the gut. One of the benefits of this is encouraging regular bowel movements.
Yoghurt, miso, kimchi, pickles, kombucha, and kefir are some examples of natural sources of friendly bacteria.
Best colon cleansing foods
A healthy gut is an essential part of keeping a healthy a body. Unfortunately, for many people digestion and food sensitivities can be debilitating.
It’s perhaps a little-known fact that 70% of the cells that make up our immune system are actually in our gut.9
However, bad foods, a poor diet, stress and toxins can all have an effect on your digestion. So, it’s really important to keep your gut healthy and eat the right foods, which is why we’ve come up with seven of the best foods that may help with your digestion
Seven of the best colon cleaning foods
Broccoli is a great source of fibre and protein, which are both excellent additions to your diet.
It contains iron, potassium, calcium, selenium and magnesium as well as the vitamins A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and a good array of B vitamins including folic acid.
They make a great addition to your stir fry, Sunday roast or even smoothies.
- Dark, leafy greens11
In addition, dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard or lettuce are all great for cleansing your colon. Very much in the same way as broccoli, they contain minerals of antioxidants which will help you protect your gut from toxins you get exposed to.
Leafy greens are really versatile, get some inspirational ideas of how to add kale or ways to use spinach.
- Chia seeds12
Chia seeds are particularly good if you are prone to constipation. They help flush out the stomach and contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which your body will thank you for.
You can simply mix them in a glass water or add them to your morning smoothie, porridge or overnight oats.
There are numerous herb supplements on the market to help your gut cleanse, but you can add everyday herbs into your diet that can support your gut health.
Fennel seeds can help the build-up of mucus and relieve gas, peppermint is great for relieving bloating and soothing stomach upsets, and oregano has both antiviral and anti-fungal properties, which can be beneficial for your gut health.
- Cayenne pepper14
You will probably know cayenne for its ability to add a bit of heat to your meal. However, it also has the ability to dissolve mucous that can build up in your body.
Adding cayenne into your diet can help the build-up of mucous and stomach acid to ease digestion trouble.
Milk might seem like a strange one to see on this list, however a US study suggests that drinking milk may help with colon hygiene and see lower counts of pre-cancerous cell growth.
As well as being delicious, raspberries are really nutritious. They’re packed full of vitamin C, high in fibre, contain amazing anti-oxidants, as well as being low in sugar. All of which your gut will thank you for!
At home colonic irrigation
You can buy ‘at home’ colonic irrigation kits, however there are concerns around their safety. We would suggest consulting a professional.
Summary: Are colon cleanses effective?
The question of whether colon cleansing improves the effectiveness of digestion is a topic for debate. However, if the desired effect is to relieve constipation and regulate digestion, anecdotal evidence suggests a colon cleanse can provide short-term relief.
Some simple changes to diet could also help, and it's recommended you attempt these first before considering any form of colon cleanse.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies.
Last updated: 4 August 2021