Our intestines circulate several portions of food every day. But it isn’t only valuable nutrients that are absorbed into the body with food: Toxic substances and bacteria also find their way in. In this case, the intestine may need to be cleansed. As we know today, a large part of the body's immune defense sits in the intestine, so cleansing the intestine can eliminate harmful pathogens.
But our immune cells are not alone in the digestive tract. Trillions of microorganisms colonize our intestines—there are far more of these our own body cells. This bacterial environment, known as the microbiome, is of enormous importance for our health. Research is still relatively new on this topic, but it is already clear that the microbiome plays a greater role than long thought—and not only in terms of our intestinal health. This is why alternative medical procedures such as colon cleansing and intestinal rehabilitation are becoming increasingly important.
What is colon cleansing?
Colon cleansing is a very old concept. It is used differently in conventional medicine and in alternative medicine.
Colon cleansing in conventional medicine:
In conventional medicine, the intestine is cleansed especially as preparation for examinations or operations. For this purpose, the patient uses a laxative and thereby completely empties their intestine. If it is properly emptied, the intestine is free of food and waste residues. During a colonoscopy, the prior colon cleansing gives the examiner a better view of the intestinal mucosa. This enables them to better assess the health of the intestine and identify possible inflammations. Colon cleansing before surgery has long aimed at a low complication rate due to infections. However, this benefit has not been proven in studies.
Colon cleansing in alternative medicine:
In alternative medicine, colon cleansing serves therapeutic purposes. The cleaning relieves the intestine completely for a short time. This allows the intestinal immune system to concentrate on other defense processes in the body. The composition of the intestinal microbiome depends on the food we eat. Cleaning can also help the microbiome to recover and for poisons and fungi to be washed out. Many supporters of colon cleansing therefore see it as a kind of reset for the colon. This should have a positive effect on the overall body health, but especially on intestinal symptoms.
What does colon cleansing do?
Effect of colon cleansing
Colon cleansing is said to soothe the intestinal mucosa and reduce inflammation. It supports healing processes with intestinal diseases and supports the development of a healthy intestinal flora.
Colon cleansing applies is used in alternative medicine as a treatment option for indigestion. It is believed that cleansing improves the intestinal movement (peristalsis) and that fewer fermentation processes result from the food pulp. In addition, the intestine is detoxified and excess acids are bound. However, there is no clear scientific evidence for this.
When should I do a colon cleanse?
In addition to conventional medical indications such as colonoscopy, regular colon cleansing is used in particular as a therapy for gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or constipation. Some also use colon cleansing as a preventive measure. If the natural microbiome of the intestine is out of balance after antibiotic therapy, for example, diarrhea can also occur. In this case, too, a colon cleanse with subsequent treatment is worthwhile with intestinal rehabilitation. This means that probiotics are taken afterwards. Probiotics contain bacteria from the natural intestinal flora and thus help to restore the natural balance. There are many positive experiential reports on this, but the research is not clear in this case, either.
Another area of application for colon cleansing is fasting. The intestine is carefully cleansed at the start of this fasting routine. Fasting then relieves the intestine for several days. The effectiveness of therapeutic fasting has already been demonstrated in various studies on various diseases. For example, rheumatic complaints improve during the fasting period.
How can I do a colon cleanse?
There are a variety of ways to cleanse the colon. The goal of all applications is to free the intestine of food and feces. It is controversial whether toxins are bound. Common colon cleansing applications are:
- Enema (colon hydrotherapy): classic, but can lead to injuries
- Laxatives: for example Glauber's salt (sodium sulfate)
Sauerkraut juice also has a laxative effect and can be consumed to support it. There are special devices that can be purchased in the pharmacy for colon hydrotherapy. Some naturopaths also offer enemas. However, this method does not cleanse the small intestine. Since the enema also has a risk of injury, it is not recommended without restriction. Taking laxatives or swelling agents is gentler.
Instructions for colon cleansing
If you want to cleanse your colon, you should consider the following points:
- Plan the timing for the cleansing. Since some preparations are necessary, you should not rush anything. It is advisable to eat light food the day before the colon cleansing to make the process easier.
- Take your time. Laxatives cause movement in the intestine, and these usually last for several hours.
- Have a toilet within reach. It is best to perform the colon cleanse at home. Since you remove all intestinal contents, you should have a toilet nearby in the hours after taking the laxatives or swelling agents. The urge to defecate is stronger than usual. As the stool becomes watery, it can also be hard to retain.
- Drink plenty. Due to the faster passage through the intestine, no water is extracted from the stool. Thus, your stool resembles watery diarrhea at the end of the cleansing. Make sure you replenish your water balance.
- Start eating gently. Have you successfully cleansed your bowels? Don't rush now! You shouldn't put too much strain on your gut with your first meal. Food such as soups or steamed vegetables is recommended.
- Maintain gut health. You can achieve the best effect with colon cleansing if you avoid unhealthy foods such as sugar in the phase afterwards. They are the breeding ground for the wrong intestinal bacteria.
How can I cleanse my colon naturally?
The colon is completely cleansed with the described colon cleansing. In order to keep your bowels healthy in everyday life, you can also cleanse your bowels regularly and gently. Swelling substances are suitable for this. Although they do not completely clean the intestine, they ensure better transport of the intestinal contents.
Flax seeds and psyllium husk are typical swelling agents. Regularly taken, they improve the quality of stool and thus also the health of the intestines. Due to their ability to bind water, they swell in the intestine. This creates a layer of mucus and stimulates digestion. Due to their regulating effect, flaxseeds and psyllium husks help with both diarrhea and constipation. It is best to take the seeds daily in combination with other foods. For example, as a supplement to your morning cereal. Since they bind water, it is particularly important to drink a lot. You can find more information about the effects and use of psyllium in our article on psyllium (here).
Hartl, M., Lassnig, T., Sommerauer, E., Wewerka-Kreimel, D., Möseneder, J., & Karner, G. (2015). DIÄTETISCHE VORBEREITUNG FÜR EINE K. Journal für Ernährungsmedizin, 17(3), 30-31. Online: https://www.kup.at/kup/pdf/13500.pdf
Duchmann, R., Hoffmann, J., Marth, T., Schneider, T., Stallmach, A., & Zeitz, M. (1997). Mukosales Immunsystem im Darm. Ann Thorac Surg, 49, 202-209. Online: https://www.uni-saarland.de/fileadmin/userupload/Campus/Forschung/forschungsmagazin/1999/1/MokusalesImmunsystem.pdf.