The Truth About Colon Cleanses (Plus Natural Options to Try Instead!)

Cleanses and detoxes are a popular topic for those seeking to improve their health or lose weight. You've probably seen advertisements for different cleanses and wondered if they really work and which one is best. While in a medical setting, colon cleanses can be necessary for certain procedures such as colonoscopies, most people who are interested in at-home colon cleanses believe that they remove harmful toxins from the body and can speed up weight loss efforts.

The Science Behind Colon Cleanses

There are different types of colon cleansing products out there including capsules, teas, powders, and colonic irrigation. Typically, ingested colon cleansing products include some sort of laxative, and people believe that a large number of bowel movements afterward are proof of ridding the body of toxins. Scientific research, however, has not found good evidence supporting the efficacy of colon cleanses, and in fact, have found that colon cleanses can actually be harmful. Colon cleansing products that you find online and in your local health food store are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Risks associated with colon cleanses include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, bowel perforation, interference with medication absorption, and more.

If You're Concerned About Toxins

If your reason for wanting to pursue a colon cleanse is because you are considered about toxins, you're in luck: you really don't need a colon cleanse since your body has its own natural detoxification system. When you eat, your body naturally rids itself of waste. Colon cleanses pose the risk of disturbing the "good" bacteria in your gut. The liver, respiratory system, and kidneys also rid your body of harmful substances. Your immune system is also working to protect you from foreign substances that can harm you. If one of your organs are not functioning properly, you should be under the care of a qualified medical professional. For example, someone whose kidneys are failing and cannot excrete a build-up of substances in their body via urine will need dialysis, where a machine acts as an artificial kidney and filters the patient's blood, several times a week for hours at a time.

Natural Constipation Relief

If your reason for looking into a colon cleanse is due to constipation, there are some natural options for you to try instead.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. You can also increase your fluid intake by consuming foods with high water content, such as melon.
  • Eat enough fiber. The general recommendation for most American adults is 25-35 grams each day, but most of us don't get nearly that amount. Fiber comes from plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Eat raw fruits and vegetables with the skin on, choose whole grains over whites, and add beans to your soups and salads.
  • Engage in physical activity. Even if you can only manage a 10-minute walk, when you get moving, you help your digestive system get moving as well.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian or medical professional. Certain medications that you may be taking, such as narcotics, can cause constipation as a side effect. Additionally, if you have certain medical conditions you may have different dietary concerns. For example, if you have a particular GI condition, increasing your fiber intake may not be recommended. If you have a renal disease, a diettian help you find fruits and vegetables that are higher in fiber but lower in potassium, which you may need to limit.

Natural Weight Loss

If you wanted to try a colon cleanse to kickstart your weight loss, you'll be better off choosing a healthy, long-term plan to manage your weight. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Choose calorie-free beverages. Many people don't realize how many calories they are consuming in liquid form. Even juice and smoothies, which may seem healthy, are not ideal so try to limit them to half a cup (4 ounces) per day. Choose water, sugar-free sparkling water, unsweetened tea, and coffee without sugar and syrups. Diet sodas in moderation are also fine for most people.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. They are low in calories but high in satisfying fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you don't like raw vegetables, be careful to cook them without a lot of added fat. Baking, sautéing, steaming, roasting, and grilling are great options as long as you don't add a lot of butter or oil. Also, beware of salad dressings that are high in calories and fat. In general, it's better to choose a clear dressing over a creamy dressing. Try to fill half of your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay hydrated. Sometimes, we think we are hungry when in reality we are just thirsty. Drink a glass of water and reevaluate how you feel.
  • Eat mindfully. It takes time for the brain to catch up with your stomach. Practice eating slowly and savoring each bite. Don't eat while distracted by the television or your computer screen. Take time to actually enjoy your meal and pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues.
  • Get moving. Most of us spend our days sitting at a desk in front of a computer. Gradually increase how much you move each day, whether it is taking a walk at lunch or after dinner or doing an exercise video at home. You can find plenty of free workout routines on YouTube such as yoga, dancing, and HIIT, for different lengths of time and levels of difficulty. You may find that a pedometer app or fitness tracker also will motivate you to stay more active.
  • Practice portion control. The portion sizes in the United States are so large that we've forgotten what healthy serving sizes look like. One serving of protein food, which contains about 21 grams of protein, is 3 ounces – the size of a deck of cards. A tablespoon of peanut butter or salad dressing is about the size of your thumb. A mini bagel is more the size we should be aiming for than the gigantic bagels we're used to seeing.
  • Write down everything. Keeping a food diary has been found to be a long-term, effective tool for eating healthy and managing your weight. You can do this via pen and paper, keep an electronic list on your phone or computer, or download an app like MyFitnessPal. This will help you stay mindful of what you eat, and you can also always take your record with you when you visit a registered dietitian or your qualified medical professional.

Remember to always speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise or diet regimen or choosing to take supplements.  





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