No Science Behind Colon Cleansing and Detox Diets

Colonoscopy cartoon. (Hemera/Thinkstock)
Colonoscopy cartoon. (Hemera/Thinkstock)

Much has been written about colon cleansing and detox diets as a way of “detoxifying” your body. On Friday, January 30, Medicine Hat News published a letter to the editor (Take ‘proactive/preventive’ wellness approach) which says the following:

“Articles in American Medicine and others state colonic irrigation is the most effective measure to relieve chronic constipation, nervous diseases, especially neurasthenia, chronic bone diseases of joints, diseased blood and forms of chronic nephritis. Systematic colon treatments and dietary changes are definitely effective in the control of high blood pressure as well. Other journals including the Ohio State Medical Journal, New England Journal of Medicine also corroborate cures of many other diseases with the use of colonic irrigation.”

Now, that is a very strong statement. But the letter writers do not provide any specific references so people like me can look them up and learn something new. I would certainly like to prescribe these treatments to my patients if somebody can show me scientific evidence that colon irrigation and detox diets do help and cause no harm.

I googled American Medicine and was unable to find a journal of that name. I was unable to find any scientific articles on the therapeutic effects of colon irrigation and detox diets in two other journals mentioned in the letter.

In my desire to find something positive about colon cleansing and detox diets, I went to three reliable sources on the Internet: the Mayo Clinic website (, the Harvard Medical School website (, and WebMD (

The Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, Michael Picco, M.D., says, “Although doctors may recommend colon cleansing in preparation for a medical examination of the colon, most don’t recommend colon cleansing for better health or to prevent disease.”

He says it is unnecessary and it may be harmful because your colon absorbs water and sodium to maintain your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. Some colon-cleansing programs disrupt this balance, causing dehydration and salt depletion. Long-term or excessive cleansing programs can lead to problems such as anemia, malnutrition and heart failure.

He further says that if constipation is your concern, you can help prevent constipation without colon cleansing. Drink plenty of water and eat a diet rich in fiber.

On detox diets, Dr. Picco says, “There is no evidence, however, that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Most ingested toxins are efficiently and effectively removed by the kidneys and liver and excreted in urine and stool.”

The doctor on the Harvard University website says, “The human body can defend itself very well against most environmental insults and the effects of occasional indulgence. If you’re generally healthy, concentrate on giving your body what it needs to maintain its robust self-cleaning system – a healthful diet, adequate fluid intake, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and all recommended medical check-ups. If you experience fatigue, pallor, unexplained weight gain or loss, changes in bowel function, or breathing difficulties that persist for days or weeks, visit your doctor instead of a detox spa.”

WebMD website reflects what has been already said. I need to see something very scientific about the benefits of colon cleansing and detox diets before I will tell my patients that these “treatments” are safe.

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3 Replies to “No Science Behind Colon Cleansing and Detox Diets”

  1. No can do, Lisa, I know to much for that. Placebo injections are better then 2 placebo pills which are better then 1 placebo pill (better being a stronger “believed” benefit). Hell even wine tastes better when one believes it cost a lot. Having a couple hundred dollar investment stuffed up my patooey is very likely to make me believe I got something for the effort especially when “our bodies know what’s best when we listen to them.”

    The data seems to indicate an immeasurably small benefit with real known risks. Since our drugs and surgeries need to meet risk benefit standards, why not have the same for our quackery: colon cleansing would be “recalled from the shelves” faster then you could say Vioxx.

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