Although records of colon cleansing date back as early as ancient Greece, its modern-day versions first appeared in the U.S. around the 1920s. It was later dismissed as a medical fad. The procedure made a comeback in the mid-2000s, and although backed by stronger marketing, its efficiency and necessity remain debatable. Few studies have been made on colon cleansing, so there’s no single answer.
The practice of colon cleansing stems from an old theory called autointoxication, which tells us that undigested food, especially meat, causes mucus to accumulate in the colon. This then leads to toxins which enter the bloodstream and cause a variety of symptoms. According to supporters of the theory, this explains common conditions such as low energy, fatigue, headaches, and even weight gain. There is some science behind it—for instance, some medications are delivered through the rectum for faster absorption—but there’s also reason to believe that the effect is more mental than anything else.
There are two main types of colon cleansing products: oral supplements and irrigation. Supplements include herbal teas, enemas, enzymes, powders, laxatives, and capsules. Many are available online or over the counter, sometimes even in supermarkets. A few are taken through the rectum, but the concept remains the same: to force the supposed toxic mucus out of the colon.
Colon irrigation, also known as high colonics, works by flushing water up the rectum, literally “washing” the toxins out. The water is then flushed out through a different tube, along with any waste loosened by the wash. The therapist may perform an abdominal massage in between to help promote the flushing, and the process may need to be repeated. The water may be combined with probiotics (good bacteria) or other substances, such as herbs, enzymes, or even coffee. A session typically lasts 45 minutes, although some last over an hour.
Advocates of colon cleansing products claim a range of benefits, including better skin and a better mental outlook. However, doctors insist that it’s not necessary unless the colon happens to be very contaminated, which is rare. This is because the colon has its own detoxifying process, using its mucus lining and natural bacteria found in the intestines. Other bodily processes also help, such as liver function and bowel movements. If you’re considering a colon cleanse, your best bet is to consult your doctor and see how much good it can do for you.