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Natural Cleanses --Are They Dangerous?
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July 16, 2011, last updated July 8, 2014

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Hair washed, teeth brushed, colon cleansed? If you believe the ads and
infomercials for natural cleanses we’re all walking bundles of toxins, and
only a natural cleanse on a regular basis can help us. Colon cleanses and
other natural cleanses have experienced a massive surge in popularity
lately. Celebrities are getting into the market. Just this month, popular
celebrity reality TV star Bethenny Frankel introduced a "Skinny Girl"
cleanse. But while naturally cleansing the colon and bowel was popular
back in ancient Greek times, should we have moved on since then?

Just what exactly is a natural cleanse and what’s the theory behind it?
Does your colon really need a cleanse? Is natural cleansing effective – does
it even work? Can natural cleanses be dangerous? We found out the
scientific facts about natural cleanses and looked into their safety and their
effectiveness, so you can make up your own mind.

What Are Natural Cleanses?

Natural cleanses are supplements, teas, enzymes or colonic irrigation
procedures. Natural cleanses are used for cleansing the colon, the large
intestine. If you want a natural cleanse you have a couple of options – you
buy a natural cleanse product or you visit a practitioner to enjoy a colonic
irrigation procedure.

Natural cleanse products with potent names like Super Colon Cleanse, Dr
Natura Colon Cleanse and Mega Natural Cleanse are taken in powdered or
liquid form, either by mouth or through the rectum. They’re often labeled
as laxatives, enemas, enzymes or herbal teas and can include psyllium,
flaxseed, senna and aloe leaves, peppermint, cayenne, fennel, ginger,
magnesium, citric acid and bentonite clay.

When you take these products you are basically trying to force your colon
to get rid of its content. When you visit a practitioner for a colonic
irrigation, fluid (water combined with herbs, enzymes, coffee, probiotics or
other supplements) is pumped into your colon then flushed out.

How Are Natural Cleanses Supposed to Work?

It’s all about the build-up. According to natural cleanse aficionados, over
time your colon gets backed up with a variety of nasties like undigested
meat, food and fecal matter. This build-up creates toxins, which you need
to remove. Toxins, according to many people, cause headaches, low
energy, weight gain and fatigue and contribute to PMS, irritable bowel
syndrome and constipation. Taken from one perspective, this theory makes
sense. Medication from rectal suppositories is able to enter the bloodstream
so presumably toxins can too. Is this correct?

Do Natural Cleanses Work?

Do we actually need to clean our colons with natural cleanses? Isn’t there
some bodily function that does this for us, even more naturally? Natural
cleanses may indeed remove products from the walls of the colon but there
is evidence to show that your body does an excellent job of this already.

Here's the bottom line--There is no scientific evidence that the intestines
become encrusted with left-over waste products. Experts say there is no
such thing as a build-up of toxins in the colon. For example, you void any
waste products from the gastrointestinal tract through bowel movements.
Your liver neutralizes toxins and the natural bacteria inside your colon
detoxify your food waste. Your colon is built to prevent unwanted and
toxic substances from entering the bloodstream and it uses mucus
membranes to keep them separate. It also voids itself of old cells every
three days or so, in order to prevent the build-up that natural cleanses are
reported to remove.

It’s up to you whether you take the other claims of the colon cleansing
product manufacturers at face value. However, there is no evidence and no
good quality research completed that says natural cleanses help you lose
weight, improve your immune system or improve your levels of energy.

Are Natural Cleanses Regulated By The FDA?

No, the US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate natural cleanse
products or test their effectiveness. Consequently, you can’t be completely
sure of these products’ safety, purity or potency. Most of the health claims
made by manufacturers and promoters of natural cleanse products have
not been scientifically verified by independent research studies.

Are Natural Cleanses Dangerous?

Doctors prescribe colon cleanses in preparation for a medical procedure
like colonoscopy. This is different from using a natural cleanse for detox
purposes. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2008 that
oral sodium phosphate products (including Visicol and OsmoPrep) used for
bowel cleansing before colonoscopy are associated with acute phosphate
nephropathy, a kind of acute kidney injury. While rare, this condition can
cause permanent renal impairment.

Using colon cleansers regularly as a home detox can do your colon more
harm than good. Frequent flushing of the system can remove important
nutrients before they are absorbed through the intestines, leaving you at
risk of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Cleaning out bacteria from the
intestines can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the body.  

In fact, scientists now believe that disturbances in the natural bacterial
environment of the intestines are behind certain chronic illnesses such as
irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and colitis.

Too many natural cleanses can stop your body carrying out its waste
disposal job effectively – your colon becomes lazy and fails to expel waste

Avoid Colonic Irrigation Except In Medical Procedures

Colonic irrigation also has side effects. You may vomit, or suffer from
nausea, cramps or dizziness. Dehydration is a risk, particularly if you have
multiple procedures. Colonic irrigations can interact with medications and
you may also suffer allergic reaction, bowel perforation and infection. In
the case of bowel perforations, this type of injury can lead to death.

The FDA classifies colonic irrigation systems as so-called "Class III"
devices. These cannot be used
except in certain medical procedures.  Over
the years, the
FDA has issued warnings to colonic irrigation manufacturers
to stop marketing these devices inappropriately.

The FDA doesn’t classify colon cleansing supplements.

One of the most common ingredients in natural colon cleanse supplements
is psyllium, which works as a laxative. You shouldn’t take this substance if
you have kidney disease and you should be prepared for certain side
effects (which are specific to psyllium) - cramps, vomiting, nausea,
difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, skin rash and itching.

Cascara sagrada, the bark of the buckthorn tree, is also commonly found in
natural cleanses as a laxative. Beware of taking too much cascara sagrada
as it may lead to abdominal pain, bloody stools, diarrhea, and possible
electrolyte abnormalities and heart rhythm problems.

Senna extract, used in natural cleanses, is FDA-approved for constipation
but there is controversy surrounding the safety of the supplement.

Why? Senna contains anthranoid chemical such as anthrones,
anthraquinones and dianthrones, which appear to work by damaging the
cells which line the colon.

In effect, could this increase your cancer risk? The results from various
long-term studies (including a 2002 study from Cattedra di Chirurgia
Generale, University of Brescia and a 2000 study from Department of
Medicine I, University of Erlangen, Germany, which didn’t support a link)
have been very mixed, and any association is not strong.

Senna is not recommended for long-term use as it can create dependency
and you may eventually find it impossible to make a bowel movement
without the supplement.

Is There Another Way to Improve My Colon Health?

Yes! You can enhance the health of your bowels and colon by eating more
fiber and drinking more water.

Americans are chronically low consumers of fiber in general. The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we eat 14g of dietary fiber
a day for every 1,000 calories that we consume. For example, if you have
around 2,000 calories a day you should be getting 28g of fiber.

Fiber helps prevent constipation, colon cancer and other diseases of the
bowel and colon. When you eat fiber, you are effectively carrying out your
own natural cleanse. Increase your intake of cereals, whole grains, fruit,
vegetables, oatmeal, nuts and seeds, and limit your intake of red meat for
squeaky-clean insides.

If you do decide to give natural cleanses a try, it’s always a good idea to
consult your health care practitioner before you take any supplement to
cleanse the colon, or before having colon irrigation.

But, the truth is, if you eat a healthy diet which contains plenty of natural
fiber and you exercise regularly, you can leave your colon alone. No natural
cleanse product is better than the job your colon --the original and most
"natural" natural cleanser, already does for you.

Here are some things you can do to support
regular colon and bowel
function, as well as habits you should follow to avoid exposure to toxins in
your every day life.

Related Links
Bowel Movements Are a Good Indicator of Your Overall Health
Toxins and Disease -The Hidden Connection
Ten Simple Ways to Detox Your Life
Sugar--The Disease Connection
Inflammation and its Role in Disease
Bowel Color--What It Tells You About Your Health
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