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The Colon Cleansing Detoxification Debate Is Still A Pain In The Butt

Colon cleansing detoxification is the subject of many differing opinions in both the alternative medicine world and the Western medicine system. Some naturopaths and practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) claim that regular colonic cleansing

removes impacted fecal material and reduces or eliminates many ailments, diseases, and bodily imbalances, especially those related to constipation. Some doctors claim that the colon (see Figure 1) is a self-cleaning organ that needs no additional cleansing except in the case of a colonoscopy or similar procedure. Who is right?

Diagram of colon and digestive system

Figure 1. Diagram of colon and digestive system. Click to enlarge.

In mammals, the colon is part of the digestive system which comes after the stomach, as shown in Figure 2. It is also called the large intestine, and measures about 1.5 meters (about 5 feet long).

Diagram of small and large intestines

Figure 2. Diagram of small and large intestines. Click to enlarge.

This tubular digestive organ consists of parts called the ascending (#1 in Figure 3), transverse (#2 in Figure 3), descending (#3 in Figure 3), and sigmoid (#4 in Figure 3) colons. These parts are so named because the colon ascends up one side of the body, travels horizontally across the other, then descends towards the sigmoid colon and the rectum (#5 in Figure 3). The small intestine connects the stomach to the colon, which connects to the rectum for waste elimination.

Picture of digestive path through the colon

Figure 3. Picture of digestive path through the colon. Click to enlarge.

The colon functions to store “solid waste” prior to elimination during a bowel movement, to reclaim excess water, and even to absorb certain vitamins. At this point in the digestive process, most of the water and nutrients have been claimed by the body. The solid material consists primarily of undigested dietary fiber and various electrolyte salts. As the solid matter moves through the gut via muscular contractions called peristalsis, it accumulates various bacteria from the digestive tract as well as mucus, and becomes feces ready for elimination.

Take a step back from the messy details and you will see that the large intestine is like a 5-foot tangled garden hose that travels up, across, and down the gut area, as shown in Figure 3. Therefore all food and drink in the digestive process must also travel this tortuous route.

It certainly seems reasonable that bits or chunks of solid matter might become impacted in the colon in the odd corner or turn, much as the water flow is restricted in the tangled garden hose. Alternative medicine proponents suggest that there can be pounds and pounds of impacted fecal matter in the colon, which forms a medium for the growth of undesirable bacteria, blocks the absorption of nutrients, impedes the movement of undigested food, and causes digestive and other health problems.

This impacted colonic matter and its undesirable side products are called toxins. Colon cleansing is a method using herbs, enemas, or other methods for removing these toxins, thereby promoting weight loss, better digestion, and improved health. This process is called detoxification.

Cleansing the intestine can be done from either end. Laxatives or similar medicines can be taken orally to promote bowel movements. Enemas or colon hydrotherapy can be performed via the rectum to remove waste from the business end of the intestines. Sometimes both methods are used together, although the toxic material always leaves via the rectum (Figure 4).

Location diagram of descending colon and rectum

Figure 4. Location diagram of descending colon and rectum

Modern medicine, on the other hand, has suggested that the colon is self-cleaning and does not need additional help from colon detoxification procedures. Some opinions even suggest that intestinal detoxification can be harmful, especially if done repeatedly. However, it is reasonable to assume that the colon was never meant to deal with the food additives, preservatives, and dyes in the modern .

Medical cleansing is usually only prescribed prior to procedures such as the colonoscopy. The cleansing liquid removes leftover material which may prevent a clear view of the colon wall to check for polyps or colon cancer. The use of a harsh colon detoxification medicine to remove this leftover material seems to be an unspoken agreement that solids do indeed accumulate in the colon.

So what’s the problem between complementary and alternative medicine, and medical science? The debate seems to be over whether intestinal cleansing should be done on a regular basis. Naturopathy or homeopathy suggests that the colon needs to be periodically detoxified to remove disease causing impacted fecal matter and its by-products. Medical science suggests that the colon is self-cleaning, and cleansing only needs to be done in the cases of certain medical procedures.

How can you know who is right? You can discuss it with your medical doctor. You can discuss it with a naturopath or homeopath. If there are no major objections from either party, then the only way to know is to try colon cleansing detoxification for yourself and see if you feel better afterward.

Copyright 2008 by Doug Smith. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

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