To promote general health and well being, the practice of colon cleansing continues to attract interest among the general population (1). It is widely touted to improve vitality. It is also believed to minimize the symptoms or totally prevent the development of a variety of chronic diseases.
The ancient Egyptians and Greeks practiced inner cleaning. So did the Chinese and Indian civilizations for centuries. Over the years, the treatment has taken many forms, but the belief behind it is the same.
The main theory behind colon cleansing is an ancient belief called the theory of “autointoxication”. It believes that the undigested foods cause mucus build up in the colon that produces a toxin. This may enter the blood’s circulation and cause toxicity.
So the body can produce toxic for itself. Hence, periodic cleansing of the colon is crucial for good health.
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What Is Colon Cleansing?
Colon cleansing is a popular therapy among alternative practitioners (2).
Colon cleansing or colonic irrigation, which is also known as colonic hydrotherapy involves the flushing of the colon. It is done to remove waste by flushing fluids inside it.
Normally, a professional called colonic hygienist performs the colon cleanse. 60 liters of fluid is passed into the rectum, while you rest on the table. Through a different tube, the toxins are ousted and the process is repeated.
Keeping the same mechanism in mind, nowadays, several natural ways of colon cleansing are practiced that can be easily performed at home, on our own.
Why Colon Cleansing is Needed?
The large intestine or colon is a part of the digestive tract and has three primary functions. It absorbs water and electrolytes, produces and absorbs vitamins form and propels feces towards the rectum from where it is eliminated (3).
Colon ferments some of the fecal matter by using its microbiota (the good bacteria in the gut). So, it is essential to keep it clean to allow the uneventful passage of the digestive material through it.
Colon cleansing is said to remove accumulated waste and toxins from the colon, thus improving digestive wellness.
Natural colon cleansing is a much loved and followed cleanse that can be performed at home, by yourself. It is said to help in treating constipation, regulating bowel movements, softening stool and may also reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Such cleanses also claim to detox the body, although there is little to no scientific evidence to support it. However, many people have revealed that cleansing results are satisfying when performed in moderation. These cleansers are also known as juice-cleansing, bowel-cleansing, natural-detox, etc.
Based on the scientific evidence, here are some effective natural colon cleanses you can do at home, along with the precautions you should take and the risks involved with the procedures.
10 Ways of Colon Cleansing
There are a few different ways of cleaning your colon. Colon cleansing products are available in the market that can be purchased. Colonic irrigation or enema is also available. Some colon cleanses can also be done at home naturally using simple things like water or so.
Below are the 10 ways of cleansing your colon that can be done quite safely if done properly.
Water flushing or cleansing the colon with just water is one of the easiest ways to detox the colon and it’s almost risk-free. To perform the water flushing, take about six to eight glasses of lukewarm water every day. This helps in improving digestion and cleansing the colon naturally.
Drinking water first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach yields the best results. Drink 8 to 12 glasses of water throughout the day, no more. Too much water can also be harmful.
The benefits of the water flush increase multifold if you eat foods that are high in water content such as cucumber, tomato, oranges, watermelon, etc. This ensures that adequate electrolytes remain balanced in your system.
High water intake is great for digestive health and it provides the perfect medium for digestion as well as defecation. Increased water content in the bowel helps in softening the stool and allows it’s easy passage thus effectively cleaning the colon.
A US-based study observed that increasing water intake can lead to decreased colon cancer risk (4).
Summary: Water cleansing of the colon can be done by drinking 8 glasses of water. This moistens and softens the stool and ensures its easy passage through the colon. Studies have shown it to lower colorectal cancer risk quite significantly.
Saltwater flushing is quite an easy but effective method of colon cleansing. It is especially useful for people suffering from irregular bowel movements or constipation.
To perform this saltwater flushing at home, mix 2 teaspoons of salt with lukewarm water. Drink the mixture quickly on an empty stomach to prevent nausea. It can clear your stomach in just a few minutes, but in some people, it may take 30 minutes or more. The preferred salt for this cleansing is either sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Whichever salt you choose to use, make sure it is a non-iodized one.
Salt Water flush can not only cleanse your colon but it also helps in detoxifying your body and removing any parasites if present. It’s best done first thing in the morning. If you are doing it in the evening then make sure you have taken a gap of at least two-three hours from your last meal.
A study performed on 54 healthy adults investigated the efficacy of saltwater flushing, in combination with a few yoga poses, to clean the colon. This is a version of the Indian Ayurveda technique of colon cleansing known as Shankh Prakshalan where five yoga poses are used in combination with salt water to create a bowel movement (5). The researchers found the technique to be quite effective in cleansing and preparing the colon for colonoscopy.
People suffering from high blood pressure, heart problems and kidney problems should not perform this saltwater flushing, unless advised by a physician. These saltwater flushes should not be performed too often. You must give a gap of about two to three weeks before trying again.
Summary: People suffering from irregular bowel movement and constipation have found relief with saltwater flushing of the colon. Two teaspoons of salt in lukewarm water on an empty stomach, ascertain quick cleansing and detoxifying your body.
High Fiber Diet
Fiber is an essential macronutrient that is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts. These are all plant foods that contain both cellulose and fiber that provide bulk in the colon.
They boost the good bacteria in the gut as a prebiotic food and regulate constipation. This helps in making the colon cleaner and provides more regulated bowel movements in the future.
A 2015 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has proved that a high fiber diet can lead to reduced colon cancer risk (6). The study also revealed that the fiber derived from cereals and fruits is the best for gut health. Raspberries topped the list in terms of fiber along with oatmeal and broccoli.
As fiber adds bulk to the stool, it allows easy passage of the stool and increases the frequency of bowel movements as well. If you find the bowel movement difficult, then using psyllium husk (Metamucil) can induce colon cleansing as well.
Psyllium husk is the pure fiber that adds bulk to the digested material and is also good for heart health and pancreas.
Summary: Cellulose and fiber from fruits and vegetables provide bulk to the stool that allows its easy passage and colon cleanse. They also facilitate good bacteria in the colon which keeps the gut healthy.
If you prefer a flavored liquid diet to clean your gut then juices and smoothies are the best choices. If you can gulp on the smoothies then they are the preferred one over juices as they have more fiber than the juices.
Juice-flush or smoothie-cleaning is one of the most popular colon cleansing regimes that are easy to follow but they can be easily overdone. This is why it is advised that the juice cleansing must be performed with restraint or just as advised.
In a 2015 study, it was found that Vitamin C can help cleanse the colon. Since fruits and vegetables mostly are packed with Vitamin C, it is an added benefit (7).
The juices must be home-made or if you are unable to make them at home, then buying the packed and pasteurized juice is the best practice to avoid any side-effects. The juice or smoothie can be a fruit or a vegetable one, or your very own blend of two. Juices not only have just the fiber but the natural sweetness of fruits in it which further acts as a laxative.
A study concluded that a juice-cleanse of about 3 days can alter the intestinal microbiota associated with weight-loss and a decrease in oxidation of lipids (8).
Summary: Juices and smoothies are packed with fibers and Vitamin C. These along with fruit sugars in them act as a laxative and cleanse the colon.
Fermented food is rich in probiotics, which are the live bacteria that are good for the whole digestive system. The probiotics boost overall health by boosting gut health, immunity and prevent bloating and gas.
Probiotics are said to improve skin texture, heart health and overcome depression as well. Some great sources of probiotics are curd, yogurt, kimchi (fermented salted vegetables, mostly cabbage and radish), apple cider vinegar, tempeh, pickles, home-made buttermilk and various kinds of cheese, etc.
Tempeh is a fermented Indonesian soybean product that is a high protein source. Pickles that contain vinegar don’t contain many probiotics, whereas those which contain just salt and water are rich in probiotic bacteria such as pickled cucumbers. Probiotic supplements can also be taken in addition to it.
Research suggests that fermented fiber is great for cardiovascular health, diabetes and in improving the microbiota of the gut as well (9). It is advised to eat the fermented food in moderation or as a side dish for perfect gut health and regular bowel movements.
Summary: Fermented food contains probiotic bacteria and which keeps the gut healthy. The functional ingredients in them have innumerable health benefits and keep your heart healthy.
Resistant starches are, as the name suggests, difficult to digest starches. The intestine takes time to digest them as they are complex carbs. So they end-up adding bulk to the stool thereby inducing bowel movements and cleansing the colon.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, white bread, rice, green bananas, buckwheat, and millet, etc come under the category of resistant starches.
The resistant starch amount increases in foods such as rice and potatoes when they are cooked and then cooled completely before eating.
They can’t be digested in the stomach and so they directly reach the colon intact. This is where they ferment and provide a better environment for good bacteria.
The good bacteria get fed and release short-chain fatty acids, which in turn, are extremely beneficial for the gut flora and digestive efficiency of the colon.
A 2013 study confirmed that resistant starches reduced the risk of colon cancer (10).
Summary: Resistant starch prolongs their digestion time in the gut, adding up bulk to the stool and aids in efficient cleaning of the colon. Intake of resistant starch has shown to bestow numerous health benefits including lowering of colon cancer.
Some herbs and spices are natural laxatives, such as psyllium husk, aloe vera, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, etc. The spices contain the antimicrobial phytochemicals which are known to decrease the harmful bacteria and facilitate bowel movements. Herbal teas such as ginger, garlic or cayenne pepper are said to be very effective in clearing out the toxins and detoxifying the gut with their anti-inflammatory properties.
Other than these herbal teas, beverages like green tea and lemon tea are effective measures to completely clear the colon. As the green tea has low caffeine content and is a good antioxidant, it improves the general well being of the body as well.
A 2010 Chinese study suggests that long term consumption of green tea can protect you from type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and diet-induced obesity (11).
But remember, only 1 cup of laxative herbal teas should be taken. However, herbal teas can be consumed 2-3 times a day as well.
Summary: The phytochemicals present in herbal teas mixed with several spices are full of antioxidants. These decrease harmful bacteria and detoxifies the colon.
Lemon Juice/Citrus Drinks
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is known to have detoxification properties. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and an immunity booster too. As vitamin C is found in all the citrus fruits, taking it for a colon cleanse is a good option. Consuming these juices daily is advised along with the normal, healthy diet to avoid any side-effects.
A 2014 study on citrus juices suggested that vitamin C in the juices, prevents the risk of colon cancer. In this study, the effect of pomegranate juice and the citrus fruit juices have been highlighted as anti-cancer agents (12).
Another study has concluded that the juice and extracts of the citrus fruits play a preventive role in not just colon cancer but all types of cancers (13).
Lemon juice is the best source of vitamin C and its consumption can reap many benefits in terms of detoxifying as well as colon cleansing. Drinking the juice empty stomach will be the most beneficial as the gut lining can absorb it easily. However, if it is not well tolerated by you then you can either drink it after a meal or can mix it with apple juice to have a clear colon.
Summary: Citrus drinks are packed with Vitamin C, which is anti-inflammatory as well as immunity boosters. Intake of this juice detoxifies and cleans the colon.
As flaxseeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, fiber, and lignans, they provide bulk to the food and induce a bowel movement. Flaxseeds are one of the best foods for colon cleansing and are rich in vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids.
In a study in 2018, it was confirmed that flaxseed reduces colon cancer risk (14). The flaxseeds cleanse is also said to induce weight loss as it makes you feel full with less consumption thereby helps in curbing those cravings.
Flaxseeds also have antimicrobial properties due to which they are said to reduce the risk of various cancers including colon cancer. The freshly ground flaxseeds can be mixed with curd and have three times a day for an alkaline type of cleansing.
This is easy on your stomach and lowers down your cholesterol levels too. Grind them fresh every time to reap the health benefits fully or you need to store the ground flaxseeds in the refrigerator in an air-tight jar.
Summary: Bestowed with a high amount of soluble and insoluble fibers, flaxseed can induce bowel movement and efficient colon cleansing. In addition, it has several health benefits like cholesterol reduction.
A 2011 study suggested that castor oil is a very effective laxative that is known to ease the bowel moments and reduce the straining during defecation (15). Castor oil helps in cleaning the colon completely and it provides a feeling of the total evacuation of the feces.
In a study in 2012, it was quoted that the ricinoleic acid present in castor oil activates the smooth muscles of the intestine and uterus (16). It results in the peristalsis movement of digestive material in the intestine, thereby cleansing the colon. Due to the activation of uterine muscles, castor oil is known to induce labor and miscarriage, so it is not recommended for pregnant women.
You can take two teaspoons (15 ml) of castor oil after mixing it in the juice of your choice. Consuming warm water afterward is known to improve bowel movements. Also, long term consumption of castor oil is not recommended for constipation relief or colon cleansing.
Summary: Since long, castor oil has been popular as a laxative. It eases the passage of stool and also reduces the effort to do so. The mechanism behind is its ricinoleic acid that activates the smooth muscles of the gut.
The Benefits of Colon Cleansing
The primary benefits of colon cleansing are the prevention of colon cancer and relief from constipation that are backed by scientific evidence.
Other claimed benefits of colon cleansing do lack scientific evidence.
However, people who have done the cleansing claim many benefits such as:
- Increased well-being
- Better Energy
- Removal of toxins
- Relief from frequent bloating, gas and acidity
- Help in weight loss
- Prevention of colon cancer
- Relief from anxiety and better mood
- Improvement in digesting fatty and heavy food
- Better liver function
- Improvement in skin texture and acne occurrence
The concept of colon cleansing is actually an explanation for a therapy that improves detoxification via the liver and the gastrointestinal tract and helps in reducing the inflammation and irritation of the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract (17).
It is advised that the cleansing must be performed once and then in moderation or sparingly to avoid any side-effects.
As the colon cleanse changes the microbiota of the intestine (how it does that is still unclear and lacks evidence), so the colon cleansing must be done under supervision and in moderation. Medical supervision is mandatory if you suffer from any kind of chronic disorder even if it is not related to the digestive system.
The Side Effect And Risks of Colon Cleansing
Side-effects of colon cleansing can be quite daunting if the cleanse is not followed as per the recommendation. That means that the cleanse must be performed once in three months or less. You need to find out how your body reacts to a particular type of colon cleanse.
If any two cleanses are performed at the same time or if the laxative teas are taken too often, then they can disrupt the intestinal linings and it can lead to chronic constipation thereby doing more harm than good.
Here are some noted side-effects of colon cleansing that you should watch out for and stop the cleansing immediately if you experience any of these symptoms and seek medical help. They are:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Anal irritability
- Sleep Disturbance
- Lack of energy or weakness
- Electrolyte deficiency or imbalance
- Bowel Ulceration or infection
- Renal Diseases such as kidney failure
- Fatigue and irritability
Precautions While Doing Colon Cleansing
- If you are a high blood pressure patient or the doctor has advised you on a low-sodium diet, then you should avoid salt water flushes. It can increase the sodium content in your body thereby raising the blood pressure further.
- If you experience cramps or irritability while doing a cleanse then you must stop the cleansing immediately and consult your doctor.
- If you suffer from any kind of chronic illness then you must not do the colon cleanse, natural or otherwise, without consulting your doctor.
- Pregnant women should not use castor oil for a bowel cleanse as it can lead to miscarriage and other ways of natural cleanse must be done after consulting your doctor.
- People suffering from any pre-existing intestinal, kidney, liver or heart disorders should not start the colon cleansing without the doctor’s permission.
- The juices that you may take for colon cleansing must be properly pasteurized or better to make them fresh at home.
- Never combine two or more natural cleanse to reap more benefits, as it can be harsh on your body especially the digestive system.
- It is advisable not to club the colon cleanses with severe calorie restriction which can cause hypoglycemia in diabetic patients and in healthy counterparts as well.
- Certain natural cleansers may have an interaction with some medicines, so it is advised to seek a medical opinion if you take some medicines regularly.
- Don’t repeat any cleansing in less than three months even if it went smoothly the first time. Repeating the method too often can be harmful.
The Final Note
The natural colon cleanse can play a vital role in improving the digestive system functioning and prevention of certain carcinogenic factors. However, they must be performed with ease, in moderation, and under supervision.
People suffering from various chronic disorders should take medical advice before choosing to clean their guts either naturally or with some kinds of laxatives. To keep your colon healthy, following a high fiber diet, exercising, increasing the water intake and avoidance of red meat is advised.
Taking a well-nourished diet and staying active is the key to perfect gut health.
Probiotics, vitamins, dairy, and calcium also helps, and it improves the number of good bacteria in the gut. Finally, for the colon cleanse, taking professional advice would be the best for a perfect experience.