Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy
When you’re suffering from poor digestive health or chronic constipation, it’s hard to feel healthy. Constipation can lead to an overall feeling of sickness, lethargy, pain, and poor appetite.
We often think of the intestines as one organ, but they’re two separate ones with distinctly different functions. The small intestine is longer and is where most of the body’s digestion and absorption takes place.
The large intestine is shorter and houses the microbiome and the colon. While some nutrients are produced here, a large portion of the large intestine’s job is a healthy bacterial landscape and elimination of waste.
With a healthy colon and elimination, the entire digestive system suffers.
What Is a Colon Cleanse?
Because digestion and elimination is so critical for total body health, many claim that you need to regularly cleanse your colon to keep it healthy. What is meant by a “colon cleanse” and is it backed by research?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a large body of studies done showing whether colon cleanses are helpful or safe. However, there are aspects that are backed by research or common sense.
Are Colon Cleanses Backed By Research?
Constipation is a common health problem. Certain types of colon cleanses can be healthy ways to address constipation without resorting to laxatives that might be dependence forming. Ensuring regular bowel movements is also protective against certain types of colon cancer.
Some sources have claimed that colon cleanses can rid the body of toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, and parasites — these claims are not only unproven, but could be dangerous.
Who Should Not Do a Colon Cleanse?
Before you start a colon cleanse of any type, it’s important to check with your doctor first. Some health conditions can make colon cleanses unsafe.
Never do a colon cleanse if you have any type of chronic or autoimmune disorder, especially one that involves the digestive tract, including the colon. You should also avoid colon cleanses if you have kidney disease, including a history of kidney stones, or problems with your gallbladder, pancreas, or liver.
If you are pregnant or could be pregnant, never do a colon cleanse. Constipation is a natural side effect of pregnancy but should never be addressed by forcing a colon cleanse. Bowel movements slow down because the body is optimizing nutrient absorption for fetal development.
Side effects of colon cleansing can include:
- Intestinal cramping or pain
- Electrolyte imbalances
If you experience any negative side effects of a colon cleanse, it’s important to check in with your doctor right away and stop any methods you’re using.
Overuse of colon cleansing can lead to chronic bowel disorders and even injury of the large intestine or colon, leading to long-term problems with elimination.
Use extreme caution when choosing herbal laxatives or teas, as these can cause severe symptoms and force the colon to eliminate, which is not a gentle protocol. These can also be habit-forming and lead to higher levels of dehydration and nutrient losses.
Possible Health Benefits of Colon Cleansing
While there isn’t definitive research proving the benefits of colon cleansing, those who use them do often notice positive results. Colon cleanses might offer the following health benefits.
When the bowels are not eliminating properly, the entire detox system gets backlogged. By supporting proper elimination, the liver, the primary detox organ, is able to more efficiently flush toxins from the body.
Improved Energy Levels
When you’re constipated, it’s hard to feel energetic about anything. By helping the body to naturally eliminate waste, overall digestion will improve, leading to better blood sugar and energy levels.
Better Gut Health & Immunity
The colon is home to the microbiome, where all of the good and bad bacteria live in the gut. A majority of the immune system lives here, too, and when the colon is backed up, sluggish, and toxic, the microphone can become unbalanced, too.
Foods that support healthy elimination also support good bacteria in the gut, making it doubly healthy.
Improved Weight Loss
When the body can’t eliminate waste, it can easily be carrying extra weight simply from the colonic backlog. It’s also hard to shed other weight if your digestive and detox systems aren’t working optimally.
Many of the foods that support colon health also fight inflammation and promote healthy digestion, which are other factors that also lead to natural weight loss.
Fewer Digestive Symptoms
When digestion starts off on the wrong foot, it can often end up in constipation or other uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, intestinal cramping, and gas.
Colon-friendly foods like ginger, lemon, and apple cider vinegar all support better digestion and reduce these unwanted symptoms.
How to Do a Colon Cleanse At Home
If you want to do a colon cleanse and have been given the go-ahead from your doctor, there are several different types you can try. It’s always important to follow the instructions and not to do colon cleanses too often.
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. Sometimes the best remedy is the simplest. To do a water cleanse, you focus on thoroughly hydrating your body over the course of a day. This is very safe and backed by research for numerous health benefits.
In order to do a water cleanse, you need to flush your body with water throughout the day. This means drinking eight or more glasses of lukewarm or warm water, spread evenly throughout the waking hours.
You can also eat hydrating foods like bone broth, soup, vegetables, and fruit.
Similar to the principle of a water cleanse, a juice cleanse supplies lots of liquid to the body and promotes hydration. Typically done by juicing vegetables and fruits, a juice cleanse can last from one to three days.
Juice cleanses are widely considered to be riskier than a water cleanse, however, because they’re severely calorie restricted and they are also high in sugar since juicing removes the pulp and fiber of the produce.
Research does show that higher levels of vitamin C are protective of colon health, but this isn’t only obtained from juicing.
Smoothies are actually more healthy for the colon, providing plenty of fiber, vitamins, and liquid. The benefits of drinking smoothies are also gained just by adding more to the diet, so you don’t have to only drink smoothies or be on a cleanse.
Another way of promoting regular bowel movements is to eat prunes or drink prune juice. If you’re especially constipated, doing both in one day can produce a bowel movement within 10-12 hours.
Prunes contain vitamins and fiber that help gently encourage a bowel movement, without a harsh laxative response. Prunes can also help to soften stool for less painful passage.
If you’re suffering from more extreme constipation or grossly irregular bowel movements, using saltwater might be an effective way to induce a bowel movement.
To do a saltwater cleanse, also known as a saltwater flush, combine eight ounces of warm water with two teaspoons of Himalayan sea salt.
Stir and drink first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. This could stimulate the urge to go within a few minutes.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t do this unless your doctor has okayed it, and it’s not safe for people with kidney issues or blood pressure problems.
Sometimes all you need to boost elimination is an increase in fiber, which promotes transit through the intestines and colon. The average American needs 25 grams per day, but gets less than 10.
Fiber is naturally found in foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. It can also be found in supplement form, like psyllium husk, which supports healthy elimination and the proliferation of good bacteria in the gut.
Speaking of good bacteria, probiotic foods and supplements can also encourage healthy elimination.
You can get probiotics from fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and more. Probiotics supplements also supply healthy bacteria for people who struggle to eat fermented foods.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Popular for many reasons, apple cider vinegar is rich in good bacteria and boosts digestive function, too. While there is little research on apple cider vinegar, many practitioners use it for digestion and colon health and it comes with few negative side effects.
Rich in healthy acids and enzymes, apple cider vinegar is an overall health supportive food. For colon health, add a tablespoon to a glass of lukewarm water.
5 DIY Colon Cleanse Recipes
If you want to do a colon cleanse, you can also combine several ingredients to make tasty drinks that help promote colon health. Try these DIY recipes at home.
Lemon, Ginger, & Apple Cider Vinegar
Not only does this combo promote colon health but it also naturally boosts digestion.
Mix 8 ounces of lukewarm water with the juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, and 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Pulse in a blender or bullet briefly to blend together and drink immediately.
Apple Juice, ACV, & Raw Honey
This mix helps gently deal with constipation while providing a deliciously palatable drink that even the pickiest eaters will like.
Mix 8 ounces of organic apple juice or apple cider with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a 1-2 teaspoons of raw honey. Drink immediately.
Turmeric, Ginger, & Coconut Latte
This soothing drink does lots more than support a healthy colon, but an added bonus is that it fights inflammation and supports a healthy intestinal lining.
Warm 8 ounces of full fat coconut milk. Whisk ½ tablespoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of ginger into it. Add a pinch of black pepper, which helps with turmeric absorption. Optional, add a teaspoon of raw honey or coconut sugar.
Warm Ginger Tea
Keep things simple by brewing ginger tea, which is perfect for boosting digestion, addressing nausea, and helping promote healthy elimination.
Make your own ginger tea by grating a root of ginger. Bring 8 ounces of water to boil and add 6-8 slices of ginger. Allow to simmer for 4-6 minutes, strain, and allow to cool a bit before drinking. Add a teaspoon of raw honey and the juice of half a lemon for taste.
Peppermint is a natural digestive aid that helps reduce symptoms like heartburn and bloating while promoting healthy intestinal function. Drinking warm peppermint tea daily can help to improve digestive health while also supporting natural colon function.
While digestive and colon health is important for overall health, there aren’t definitive studies on the practice of colon cleansing. Research backs lots of nutrients involved in typical colon cleanse protocols but haven’t proven whether or not the colon actually gets cleansed in the process.
As long as your doctor approves, using colon cleanse protocols to help relieve constipation can be healthy and part of a regular digestive wellness routine.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.