Dr Finkelstein On Colon Cleansing

Dr Finkelstein On Colon Cleansing

by Dr. Michael B. Finkelstein, M.D., F.A.C.P., A.B.H.M.
posted on December 13th 2010

The technical and obvious meaning of the words “colon cleanse” is the removal of waste from the colon. Often, when people consider the issue of cleaning and detoxification, now popularized by many health experts as well as commercial enterprises, this term comes up. One should be careful, however, since cleansing the colon is just one piece of the pie. Our body uses many organs to rid itself of toxins and by−products of metabolism; and many of these processes occur quite naturally. When one goes after an “intentional” effort to cleanse or detox, there are potential caveats and many questions. This article is written to address those that pertain to the colon. Let us first examine what the colon is. The colon itself is the “final” part of our intestinal tract, the long tube that goes from our mouth to our anus and is largely responsible for the consumption, digestion, assimilation, and removal of food and waste from food. Itself, about 3 feet long (the rest of the intestine is about 30 feet long), the colon is responsible for three major functions: final packaging and elimination of solid waste, the removal of water from that waste, and the removal of toxins that enter the intestinal tract anywhere along its course. As an aside, the colon is often called the large intestine, since it is substantially wider than the “small intestine,” the 25 feet of “tubing” that precedes it. For completion sake, the first portions of our intestinal tract include our mouth and the esophagus, which carries food from our mouths to our stomach. The stomach is a “mixing” container that adds various enzymes and acid to that food, mechanically breaking it down as well, and regulating the release of the material into the small intestine, where additional enzymes and mechanical action are employed and most of the absorption of nutrients takes place, though not all. In fact the stomach as well as the large intestine can absorb some nutrients, and in particular, are very important in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. 

Most critical to our understanding of the intestine is that the cells that line the intestine are metabolically active − that is to say that they have something like factories inside and have gate−keepers that regulate the movement of nutrients and waste in and out. It is the latter that is critical to our discussion here. 

As I mentioned earlier, the body does have a natural way of getting rid of the toxins that wind up in the intestinal tract. However, there are times when these mechanisms can be overwhelmed. As an example this can occur if people do not completely “evacuate” the contents of their colon or have regular bowl movements. In this situation, if some of these wastes remain in contact with the intestinal lining for long periods they deteriorate into toxic matter. When toxin is produced a part of it is absorbed, along with nutrients, into the body. 

To prevent the production and ultimate absorption of toxic matter, accumulation of waste in the colon must be avoided. Indeed, some of the toxins produced in the colon are recognized as causes of colon cancer. Colon cancer is one of the biggest killers in the United States. It seems that regular bowel movements, and perhaps “cleansing,” is necessary to avoid constipation and the increased risk for cancer and other intestinal disorders, such as diverticular disease that are associated with it. 

Another important consideration when one thinks of “colon health” is that the colon does not exist in a vacuum. It appears that when the colon is not functioning properly, the entire digestive tract is apt to malfunction. In the same way, your general health is linked to the colon as well. Finally, for those individuals who are interested in losing weight, it seems that when you restore your system to greater balance, your metabolism self−regulates. And, if there is an undercurrent of self−deregulation that is responsible for excess or unnecessary weight, the potential to return to a more ideal body weight can be accomplished by improving that situation. Clearly, a colon cleanse should not be looked at as a quick fix or magic bullet. But, there are reasons to strongly consider ways in which you can improve the health of this important organ. 

Now let us see how colon cleansing is done. The first component here is to work with the body’s natural mechanism for this, and, as such, think of the food you put into your body and its long term effects. Highly processed food, artificial sweeteners and other additives all contribute to dysfunction. The first step then, is to avoid, or at least minimize, these “foods.” Second, adequate quantities of water are important; otherwise the colon’s will optimize its removal of fluid from the material presented to it, leaving your dry and constipated. 

After this, there are certain foods, like fiber, that will promote bowel movements. Important here as well is to understand that the more animal products you consume, e.g. dairy, meat, chicken, eggs, even fish, the more fiber you will require to balance out the “anti−fiber” properties of these foods. Similarly, processed grains in the form of bread, pasta, cakes and cookies are “anti−fibers.” 

After this, you can now consider how to promote cleansing with products, services and “supplements” developed for that purpose. In addition you need to think of when and how often you might chose to do any of this, and whether or not to do it in conjunction with a more thorough “systemic cleanse or detox,” the latter in the form of a fasting regime of some sort which will actively support the simultaneous removal of toxins from other important organs, namely your liver, kidneys and lungs. 

Sticking with the colon for the moment, if you chose to use products for the purpose of removing unwanted and “stuck” debris and toxins, the best way is to use natural supplements in conjunction with the measure above. Keep in mind that if you constantly fill your tank with crap (literally speaking) you will almost never accomplish a good cleanse. Thus, you need to work on this from both ends. Further when purchasing any products use only supplements containing organic material, come from reliable sources, and before you buy any one of them examine the contents. Personally, I could see the benefit of a simple supplement that improves the regularity of bowel movements as a standard procedure, e.g. daily or weekly, and only specifically “cleanse” your colon with more intensive methods, such as enemas or colonic hydrotherapy (colonics, colon irrigation), when following the guidelines of a well−supervised fasting/detoxification program. 

The issue with a simple supplement is that they might not give you satisfactory results. One should always be aware that even natural remedies could have side effects and other untoward, e.g. unhealthy consequences. 

Also, more gentle regimens and natural methods require longer period to show results. Thus, you need to be patient and ideally incorporate this approach into one that encompasses all of your health. 

Regarding enemas and colonics, these should be done with supervision. Eventually, once guided as to how to and how often to do it, a tap water enema is easy enough (and generally safe) to do on your own. On the other hand, colonic hydrotherapy, which is much more thorough in some sense, should only be done by a skilled technician and you need to understand that there are potential risks associated with this that you should discuss with a knowledgeable health professional. (Unfortunately, this won’t always be your physician). 

The increasing popularity of colon cleansing has led to the advent of professional colon cleansing facilities and programs in many leading spas across the world. In many ways, a colon cleanse professional may be best suited to guide you to a healthier colon and digestive tract. 

Back to Basics: The colon cleanse diet

If you are one who agrees that a healthy colon is absolutely necessary to achieve good health, it will be useful to review some of the recommendations above, starting with your diet. Indeed, this is the simplest, if not smartest and safest way to accomplish that. And, I would consider the use of enemas and colon irrigation which could be useful to some extent on occasion. One drawback of these practices, however, is that the user may become a permanent dependent on them if used too often or if certain products, e.g. stimulants are overused (or used at all). Also, colon cleansing kits are often quite expensive and it may be difficult to reliably trust the sources. 

Therefore, the simplest and easiest method is to follow a colon cleanse diet. It is healthy, easy to adapt to, and inexpensive. Once again, the first thing you have to do is to drink plenty of liquids. A grown up person can consume one to two gallons of fluids a day. Avoid excessive use of alcohol, soda and coffee. Clean water is a very good choice. Whole fruits and vegetables and some fruit and vegetable juices also form part of colon cleansing diet. And don’t forget about the discussion of fiber and “anti−fiber.” Of note, bran, cereals and whole grains can be rich sources for fiber but are often processed to such an extent that they lose that value. Compared to the expense and potential concerns relating to colon cleansing kits available on the market, this approach may make the most sense for most people. And, at the same time is a good diet for life! 

But, there is more. Many people believe that diet is all about consuming the right food. No, it is a much broader term. A colon cleansing diet, in its broadest meaning, also includes fasting, that is abstinence from food. Many people believe that periodic fasting, particularly 3−7 day juice fasts (where special fresh green vegetable juices are prepared and consumed throughout the day as the only source of “nutrition”) is the best method for cleansing your colon. A colon cleansing diet can also take the shape of having only fruit and vegetable juices for a week combined with whole fruits and vegetables in a “prescribed” manner. Both will flush out the toxin producing wastes from your colon and other debris that accumulate that do not have a chance to be removed as long as you consume your “regular diet.” It is true that many people may not be able to sustain a juice only fast program, even the modified regime of juice, fruit and vegetables. Such individuals might resort to the fiber rich food recommendations mentioned above. But, to whatever degree you can follow any of these plans, a “colon cleansing diet” will surely be beneficial and will meet with success! 

What about herbal products?

Most people today prefer natural and herbal products when it comes to their body. Something as important as colon cleansing could be done in a completely natural way. And, there are many herbal products that are widely acclaimed as useful in support of colon cleansing. It is necessary, however, as always, to be guided by someone who you can trust when it comes to selecting any of these. 

Does it require professional help?

It is quite difficult at times for people to find or to afford professional support when it comes to a colon cleanse program. In addition, many are sensitive about the matter involved and the personal nature of some of the “techniques” and discussions that take place. This is why there is so much interest in programs that you can do on your own. Again, when it comes to products and regimens, having a good source for the recommendations you ultimately follow is critical. 

How much will it cost me?

Cost is an important factor when considering colon cleansing. Obviously, if your approach is primarily dietary adjustments, this might not cost you anything more, in fact, it could save you money. Once products and services are involved, e.g. supplements, enemas or colonics, etc.... cost will be more of a factor. This is something that you will need to investigate and determine based on local resources. As a rule of thumb, an “occasional” cleanse might be all you need, and thus, even if there were expenses involved, they are likely to be manageable, especially when you consider the benefits down the road. 

Are there any side effects?

The dietary approaches outlined above might require some time for your system to adjust, but in the long run should not pose any concern as far as side effects. If you undertake a supervised fast program or have colonics done periodically by a well trained practitioner, similarly, you should do well. However, there are risks and it is important that you understand these. Many physicians caution people about colonics as there is a small chance of rupture of the colon. And there are issues with sterility and professionalism that unfortunately arise on occasion. 

Overall, you must use common sense and discernment when it comes to some of the things that have been mentioned in this article to be sure they are appropriate for you.

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