On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Skip the Colon Cleansing Trend

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I keep reading and seeing videos about the benefits of colon cleansing, speaking of it in the most glowing, essential-for-good-health terms. I cannot imagine this is something that you would advocate, but want your opinion on the topic. Is it beneficial? Is it safe? -- F.S., Las Vegas

DEAR F.S.: The goal of advertising is to motivate an individual to buy. Objectivity and accuracy can be spun, or bypassed outright when there is no evidence to support the claims.

There are many names for “cleansing” procedures designed to purge the contents of the large intestine, otherwise known as the colon. Aside from “colon cleansing,” these terms include: high colonics, colonic irrigations, coffee enemas, detoxification therapies, and hydro-colon therapy. Some work from the top down, using laxative products and dietary supplements, while others go from the bottom up, relying on the insertion of a rubber tube inside the rectum to flush out the colon with water or other liquids.

What kind of message could make such a procedure attractive?

First, advertisers must convince audiences that there is a problem to be solved, before offering their product or procedure as the solution. Consider that we cannot see what is going on inside our colons. This leaves us open to the suggestion that all sorts of toxins, parasites and other undigested waste are trapped inside. “Impacted” is often an operative word. We get told that an unclean colon prevents needed nutrients from being absorbed, and can divert the attention of the immune system, leaving us vulnerable to a host of ailments. A list of common conditions usually follows, including: constipation, excess gas, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle aches and pains, headaches, depression and fatigue. And of course, colon cancer is often mentioned.

The cleansing procedure gets portrayed as an essential adjunct to the intoxications wrought by our polluted environment and the standard American diet. Add a few pictures, a bunch of glowing testimonials and you have your recipe for a sale.

The first recorded mention of colon cleansing comes from ancient Egypt, and the procedure has had periodic revivals throughout history. It became popular in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, but as medical science gained a better understanding of the functions of the digestive system, there was no scientific evidence that the routine use of such procedures could help against disease or contribute to long-term health. Today, however, the internet is “impacted” with dubious commercial sites delivering the above scenario and offering products for sale with little in the way of content oversight. You can even find these products at local food stores, next to the dietary supplements.

As to the facts, we all need to appreciate that the cells that comprise the lining of the intestines are shed periodically, which means that the lining of your intestine changes on its own from month to month. This lends doubt to the rather gross concept that caked-on toxins hang around our colon to wreak havoc with our health. Consider also that, except for water, the nutrients in our food get absorbed before they reach the colon.

There is no question that regular bowel movements are an important part of good health, but “regular” can vary from person to person. The whole foods and fiber we eat determine how well our digestive and elimination systems work, and should therefore be viewed as an essential part of our daily diet.

It is our foods and lifestyle that determine our state of health. All this makes more sense than relying on unproven, archaic “flushing” procedures. Read more about colonics at tinyurl.com/j4k7xdm. And here is a link to FTC dealings with a purveyor of these products: tinyurl.com/y9pm4nyj.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.