Why cleanse your colon?
Most natural health practitioners (such as herbalists, naturopaths, nutritionists etc) agree that many modern day health conditions and, in particular, digestive complaints are caused (or at least contributed to by) years of poor diet.
Regularly eating processed and refined foods (i.e. ”junk foods”), combined with a lack of the required vitamins, minerals and other essential dietary nutrients, has the potential to cause a build-up of toxins in the body, which can in turn wreak havoc on the immune system and the body’s internal cleanse and detox capabilities.
While there are many medications and strategies available that are designed to address specific symptoms and suppress the body’s natural immune system response (which can then lead to other problems), most natural health practitioners believe that the key to alleviating digestive system issues for the long-term is to address the underlying causes of such symptoms. For example, through a sensible change in diet and, if necessary, lifestyle.
In the short-term, it can also be of benefit to cleanse the colon (as well as regularly thereafter). This is because, aside from the digestive tract being the site of nutrient absorption and waste elimination, it can also be a breeding ground for bad bacteria and other harmful pathogens, particularly where constipation and fermentation are present (see below).
Without addressing these issues (which may include infections, food intolerances, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria etc), it can make it more difficult (if not impossible) to improve other aspects of health, such as digestion, immunity and even weight loss.
Common health complaints
Below are just a couple of the more common health issues that can stand in the way of optimal health, and which may therefore indicate that a colon cleanse could be of benefit:-
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and yeast infections
IBS (also previously referred to as “spastic colon”) is the generic term for a group of symptoms affecting the digestive system where the precise cause is unknown. One of the symptoms is bloating; others include bouts of diarrhoea and/or constipation, as well as inflammation of the bowel.
Infections can develop in different parts of the body, such as the mouth, underarms and respiratory and gastrointestinal (GI) tracts and can affect men, women and children. Having said that, the vast majority of Candida yeast infections occur in women and affect the digestive tract and vaginal/genital areas. Yeast infections are caused by micro-organisms (chiefly Candida albicans) and can lead to IBS symptoms. When such parasites are present, colon cleansing can be a helpful tool.
When the body’s normal waste extraction / detoxification systems become clogged or stagnant (e.g where constipation and/or fermentation are present in the gut), it can cause toxins to leak into the bloodstream. This, in turn, can lead to all kinds of problems for the internal organs, as they try to deal with the additional strain placed on them by toxic build-up. When toxin levels become too high and the body cannot eliminate these via normal methods (including elimination by the colon and liver), detoxification programmes (and colon cleansing in particular) can be a helpful tool.
Constipation and fermentation
A range of lifestyle factors can result in the digestive system being placed under recurring strain. This can lead to an inefficient digestive process, partially digested food, fermentation and putrefaction of that food in the gut and finally the production of gases leading to bloating and wind. Ultimately, excessive flatulence and bloating is a sign that food is not being digested properly by the body.
One of the most common effects of a digestive system under strain or functioning poorly is chronic constipation - generally defined as experiencing fewer than 1 - 3 bowel motions per day on average. If constipation is present and waste is allowed to sit in the colon for a prolonged period of time, it provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and can lead to the re-absorption of toxins into the bloodstream. One of the symptoms of a system overloaded with toxins is bloating.
About the colon
To better understand the operation of the colon, it's important to note that the digestive tract is the set of organs in the body through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested and eliminated. These organs include the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum and anus.
The large intestine is made up of the colon and the rectum. The colon is about 5-6 feet long and has an ascending, transverse and descending portion. From there, it joins the rectum. It takes food anywhere between 18 to 24 hours to pass along the entire length of the colon.
The main functions of the large intestines are the formation and excretion of waste, the absorption of water and minerals and good bacteria in the colon manufacture vitamins B1, B2, B12 and K. They also help to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
Cells of the colon secrete mucus, which lubricates and protects the walls. Inflammation or irritation of the intestinal wall causes the release of large amounts of mucus, as well as water and electrolytes. In this case, mucus can frequently be seen in the stools and there may also be diarrhoea.
On the other hand, if waste remains in the colon for longer than is ideal, causing constipation, large amounts of toxins are likely to be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. This is called auto-intoxication or self-poisoning.
Waste matter is filled with bad bacteria, so it is important to get it out of your body as quickly as possible. If the colon is regularly abused and neglected, it can become a cesspool of toxins. If these are not eradicated from our bodies, they can keep building up over time and may even be reabsorbed into the body! This can lead to bloating, constipation, IBS symptoms, gas, stomach pain and fatigue.
The digestive system is under pressure to carry out vital physiological functions on a daily basis. In many cases, digestive problems are caused by a toxic build-up in the body, so it can be helpful to “flush” the body of all toxic chemicals and waste regularly. One means of achieving this is with so-called “colon cleansers”.
Colon cleansing and detox methods
Colon cleansers fall into two broad categories:
- oral/rectal supplements
- and colonic irrigation.
As the name implies, they are all meant to “cleanse” the colon of toxins and substances that can result in health issuses and/or accumulation of fat. They are simply foods / food supplements, laxatives or procedures used to spur the bowels into action, to hopefully produce a bowel movement. The intention is that, by causing the colon to expel its contents, this helps to rid your body of all the toxins and wastes that have built up in the colon.
As explained above, the colon is the part of the digestive tract that stores the waste material that most of us would rather not think about, and often don't until our health begins to deteriorate. Over time, the colon has a tendency to get clogged with food particles, particularly if the diet includes high amounts of fatty, sugary, refined foods and not enough fresh fruit and vegetables. This can result in an accumulation of parasites and toxins that can have an adverse effect on health.
Colon cleansing is not a new concept. In fact, colonic irrigation was used by the Egyptians as far back as 1500 BC, was taught in Ancient Greece’s medical schools and was practised by Chinese medicine more than 3000 years ago. Even then, it was already appreciated that water can be a highly effective cleansing agent that purifies, softens and neutralises.
In more recent times (and particularly because of the increased pressure placed on our digestive systems by the Western diet), colonics and colon cleansing health supplements have seen a spurt in popularity, as potential tools that can support digestive health and general well-being.