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A client called me a few weeks ago looking for advice about what I call a Cleanse-In-
A-Box. These “Intestinal Cleanse” formulas are found all over the internet, on late night TV, at “health food stores” and increasingly at the local drug store. They promise great rewards through little effort. I have huge concerns about the efficacy and safety of these products.

Before you decide to purchase or take a cleansing product, please consider the following factors carefully. I know that many alternative health care practitioners advocate these products. I do not feel that they are safe or valuable for you and I want you to understand why.

Check the ingredient lists. Look for Senna, Cascara Sagrada and Psyllium.
Psyllium is a dietary fiber commonly used to improve bowel regularity. It serves this function well, although I prefer flax fiber which I feel is less likely to cause gas. However, psyllium is very inexpensive. Don’t pay a high price for a “cleanse” that is mostly inexpensive psyllium.

Senna and Cascara Sagrada are potent herbal laxatives. All the medical studies I’ve read say that it is unsafe to take either for more than seven days in a row. They can be habit-forming even in a very short time. These products work by irritating the intestinal lining. Cleansing by irritating? I don’t think that is a good idea.

These “cleanses” promise dramatic results. We see all kinds of sensational, tabloid-style advertising about the weight we can lose by eliminating pounds of waste we are carrying around and the miles of “black snakes” or “mucosal plaque” you can eliminate. Recognize that these are advertising ploys. Senna and Cascara Sagrada are laxatives that can cause you to have a runny stool – much of the weight you are losing may be water your body shouldn’t be losing. Taking some pills and tinctures may lead to some weight loss, but that you are likely to gain most of it back when you return to normal eating and stop taking the product.

Here’s the technical bit that makes me wonder about the black snakes: medical studies show that use of senna or cascara sagrada can stain the internal lining of the large intestine black. Use of senna and cascara sagrada can cause over-production of mucus, which is protective of the delicate internal tissue. Put the two together. Sounds like black, tarry mucus to me. I have not found a single medical study verifying the existence of mucoid plaque in normal individuals. Is it possible that these expensive “cleanses” actually create the “snakes” they claim to eliminate from the body?

So what to do? I suggest a dietary solution, a dietary cleanse that continues to nourish your body without irritation. You can cut back on calories, take in large quantities of fiber, have a few colonics, replenish your good bacteria with Probiotics and feel as fantastic as all these glossy, well-marketed “cleanses” say you’ll feel. Safely.


Good post Heather! It's so good to hear a colon therapist who is not in favor of colon cleanse products. I've met quite a few that not only recommend them but sell them. I'm also glad to see you comment that there is no evidence for "mucoid plaque" even existing. I've read colon surgeons state that they've never seen mucoid plaque in any colon they've opened up or extracted. So... it seems that it must be a product of some marketers imagination.

And, about stimulating the intestines to cleanse...

What is the physiological reason for the body to increasing a normal elimination process to expel a substance? Yes, irritation! Or poison. A clearly perceived threat by the body...

Similarly, why does caffeine "stimulate" us? The body perceives it correctly as a poison and speeds up the metabolism to get it out of the system asap.

Misunderstanding this we use many products to stimulate the bodies normal processes, thinking that we can stimulate ourselves to health. Unfortunately the body cannot give an endless supply of energy.

So, the body becomes depleted and goes into overdrive to survive. This weakens the colon, kidneys, pancreas, adrenals, etc. They are over-active, tired, and unable to properly do their work. Our normal reaction is to continue to stimulate - it gives us a false feeling of feeling better.

What the body always needs is the opportunity to heal. To stop defending itself. To rest from the continuing demands of giving stimulant induced energy. The bodies, intelligence heals. It's what it does. It's a self-healing machine.

Well stated Wyn.

My bias is, of course, that colon hydrotherapy is a safe and effective way to flush out the colon. I believe that colon therapy stimulates the body's natural peristalsis instead of stimulating irritation and spasm as caffeine, nicotine and these "colon cleanses" do.

When the body is cleansing naturally, for example when we withhold the toxins we usually take in by fasting or simply choosing a better diet, the body can't keep up with the waste production and colon therapy helps the process along and gives the body room to heal itself.

How do colonics work in relation to those age- related pockets inside our intestinal tracts that get food stuck in them? How far does the water reach during colonic hydrotherapy?

During a colonic, there is the opportunity for water to fill the large intestine. The valve between the small and large intestines should prevent water from entering the small intestine. An enema, in comparison, usually only fills a portion of the large intestine.

I believe that the pockets you are talking about are diverticulii, small "balloons" that form in many people's large intestines as they get older. Colon hydrotherapy may be able to loosen fecal matter stuck in these pockets. However, there is a risk in individuals with inflammation of the diverticulii (diverticulitis) that the tissue, already stretched and thinned, may be perforated and sepsis may occur. Sepsis is the release of fecal matter into the abdominal cavity through puncture, tear or rupture in the intestinal wall. This is a life-threatening situation, so I don't recommend colon hydrotherapy for anyone with active diverticulitis.

In some people, the intestine as a whole has become distended, creating larger pockets. Fecal matter stuck in these pockets can be loosened and released with colon hydrotherapy.

Does that help?

This is Jacalyn Booth, also a colon hydrotherapist here in the Ojai Valley. I agree with Heather's comments and work with my clients under the same philosophy -- good information Heather.
Diverticulitis (the state of inflammation)can be quite painful. Doctors I have consulted and work with have stated that it is not uncommon for many people, as they get older, to develop diverticulii. Good reason for drinking plenty of water and ingesting enough fiber.
Have a happy and healthy New Year!