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Does anybody really need the colon cleansers advertised on late-night television? There is considerable evidence that most colon cleansing products are scams, but colon detoxification is still a priority for maintaining good health.

The colon cleansers advertised on late-night television

Here is an explanation of how to recognize useful products followed by ten natural cleansing tips you can try on your own without having to buy any unnecessary products.

There are many reasons to be skeptical of advertisements for just about any product labeled as a "colon cleanser." The most important reason for buyers to beware is that many of the traditional claims made about the need for colon detoxification were just plain lies.

Natural products makers used to try to convince customers that they needed colon cleansing because little bits of undigested food accumulated for 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, or longer in the colon. They tried to tell people that you could find that third serving of Thanksgiving turkey you ate in 1967 still decaying somewhere in your jejunum, and you would never be healthy until you got it out.

The bizarre claims made for cleansers were simply false

The advent of colonoscopy proved once and for all that the bizarre claims made for cleansers were simply false, so the colon cleanse manufacturers had to come up with something a little more plausible. Now the pitch is that we live in an era of depleted soils and we need colon cleansers so we can absorb the vitamins and minerals that are not available in nature.

If you think about it, however, this is a claim that does not even make sense. After all, exactly how does getting waste matter out of the colon get minerals and vitamins in? If soils are depleted so that food does not contain nutrients, don't you really need healthy food?

Another spurious claim of colon cleanse manufacturers is that their products contain dozens of natural ingredients essential to good health. Let's think about that for a moment, too.

Can you really get 400 herbs into one capsule?

Actually, the reason natural products makers have long lists of ingredients is patent protection—they want to make their products sufficiently different from those of their competitors that nobody can file suit on them for patent infringement. The legal argument can always be made that including, as one manufacturer does, a single tablespoon of an herb in 250,000,000 capsules of the product is sufficient difference to claim a unique product.

But the various worst thing about some colon cleansers is that they are intentionally designed to make sure you never get your colon cleansed. If you take a product that provides one pill with a lose dose of an herbal laxative (senna, rhubarb, or aloe, usually), and another pill with 1 gram of fiber (out of the 30 grams of fiber you need each day), you will make a lot of trips to the bathroom—but you will never cleanse your colon!

The combination of just enough laxative to force you to go the bathroom and just enough fiber to produce tiny stools is intended to keep customers thinking they need the product, buying it month after month.

The tragedy of the industry is that colon detoxification really is important to health, but for reasons not one single maker of colon cleansers ever tells its customers: Too much food in the colon raises blood sugars.

Blood sugars don't just go up when you eat too much sugar. Blood sugars also go up when the colon is distended.

A healthy colon is part of a blood-sugar detection system

A healthy colon is part of a blood-sugar detection system that keeps blood sugar levels in balance. When a digested meal reaches the colon, stretch receptors send signals to the pancreas. The pancreas releases a large amount of insulin to cover the sugars it "expects" to be released from the meal, but it also releases a large amount of glucagon to make sure that blood sugars don't go to low.

Most people have heard of insulin but haven't heard of glucagon. The second hormone causes the release of sugars stored in the liver. It is so important to health that there the brain always has enough glucose for fuel that the effect of the glucagon is greater than the effect of insulin. In other words, whenever your colon is full, your blood sugars will go up.

But if you are constipated—or if you gorge on leafy greens or salads—your blood sugars can soar even without your eating any sugar at all! Diabetics, in particular, may have blood sugars of up 350 mg/dl, more than three times normal, just by eating a head of lettuce. And the insulin that is released in expectation of the bloodstream receiving sugar is also available to store fat. The tummy bulge that is caused by constipation can lead to a tummy bulge that is caused by fat.

So what can you do to really cleanse your colon?

Here are some simple natural cleansing tips:

  1. Eat less at mealtime, but eat more when you snack. Give your colon time to process food, especially fiber. Never load up on vegetables because you have not had enough for the day. Spread your fruit and vegetable choices across breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
  2. If you do not already eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, gradually increase your consumption of plant foods to the nine-serving level. Give the friendly bacteria in your colon a chance to multiply so they can feed on the fiber. These bacteria make up about 1/3 of the mass of stool, and when they are healthier, your colon is also healthier.
  3. Don't eat bran if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or you get heartburn. Bran keeps food in the stomach longer, so acid is more likely to come up. It helps food pass through the colon faster, but the bran you eat at breakfast will probably still be in your stomach at noon. Eating bran more than once a day can actually make constipation worse, not better.
  4. Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water a day. Water helps stool stay moist and easier to pass.
  5. Avoid high-fat meals. High fat increases colon contractions and the urge for bowel movement, but it also makes stool hard and difficult to expel. Gas, however, can still escape.
  6. Avoid high-sugar meals. When you eat a lot of sugar, your brain sends signals to the colon to move food more slowly so less sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. If you are a diabetic, controlling your blood sugars usually helps colon problems.
  7. If you have heart disease, don't use fiber. Use softening agents instead. Softening the stool, without making it bulkier with fiber, reduces strain on the heart.
  8. Don't take fiber and laxatives at the same time (the way they appear in some dual-action colon detoxifiers). Either take a laxative to speed up bowel movement or take fiber to make the stool softer and easier to move, but do not take both at the same time.
  9. Finding 15 or 20 minutes of uninterrupted bathroom time increases the probability of bowel movement. Allow family members privacy to deal with bowel issues.
  10. If you don't exercise at all, adding 15 to 20 minutes of gentle exercise a day will relieve constipation. If you already exercise, additional exercise probably will not have an effect on bowel movement.

Short-term colon cleanses, usually a day of eating high-fiber vegetables followed by the use of a strong natural laxative, are fine for getting rid of pinworms and parasites. For long-term health, however, keep your bowels moving and your colon will detoxify itself.

  • Di Palma JA. Expert commentary--new developments in the treatment of constipation. MedGenMed. Jan 1 2005.7(1):17.
  • Lennard-Jones JE. Clinical management of constipation. Pharmacology. Oct 1993.47 Suppl 1:216-23.
  • Peppas G, Alexiou VG, Mourtzoukou E, et al. Epidemiology of constipation in Europe and Oceania: a systematic review. BMC Gastroenterol. Feb 12 2008.8:5
  • Photo courtesy of Daniela Vladimirova by Flickr :

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