Why Colonics Should Never Be Used as Detoxes

Wellness recommendations used to be straightforward. Eat whole foods, sweat often, drink water. You know, the basics. Today, those sound guidelines have gotten overshadowed by superfood powders, infrared saunas, and (perhaps worst of all) colonics. Touted as a trendy way to “detox” the body, colonics are not only completely unnecessary for cleansing or weight loss purposes, but also potentially dangerous. Below, we explain everything you need to know about the invasive procedure.

What is a colonic?

A colonic, also sometimes called a colon cleanse, is a procedure that entails flushing a large quantity of water (and sometimes additional substances, such as herbs) through the colon, AKA the large intestine. The water enters the body via a tube that’s inserted into the rectum. Then, it’s...released.

Colonics are often performed prior to medical procedures, such as colonoscopies, so that physicians can get a better look inside the body when screening for things like polyps and cancer. But some people in the wellness world promote colonics as a form of cleansing, stating that the procedure is highly detoxifying. Remember: waste, toxins, and fecal matter are all stored in the colon before they get excreted from the body. Colonics are therefore said to empty the colon of its contents, expelling gunk that has built up on the intestinal walls and flushing out toxins. Proponents say colonics have the power to improve blood pressure levels, decrease arthritic symptoms, prevent chronic disease, and deliver an overall feeling of increased lightness.

What’s so bad about that?

For one, your body naturally comes fully equipped for detoxification. Ever heard of the kidneys, immune system, skin, and liver? They’re better at cleansing than any colon cleanout procedure will ever be. Healthy kidneys consistently filter waste out of our systems by way of the urine, while the immune system works to scavenge and kill toxic substances stat. The skin serves as a barrier that blocks out pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. Most important of all, the liver metabolizes potentially harmful substances (think: heavy metals) and then sends them into bile for excretion. The bottom line: your body knows a thing or two about keeping your gut clean. Go ahead and let it do its thing.

Second, the research is lacking when it comes to the benefits of colonics for general wellness. As one study published in the The American Journal of Gastroenterology put it, “There are no methodologically rigorous controlled trials of colonic cleansing to support the practice for general health promotion.”

Are colonics actually dangerous though?

Yes. If done incorrectly, a colonic can cause an infection, perforate the bowel lining, and result in an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut, also known as dysbiosis. All of those pricey kombuchas and probiotic supplements for nothing?! Jokes aside, dysbiosis has been linked to inflammation, changes in body weight, and disrupted insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. Cramping, nausea, dehydration, and loss of electrolytes are also possible side effects of colonics.

How can I keep my colon healthy sans colonic?

Great news: there are plenty of simpler ways to take care of your colon. Start with what’s on your plate. A healthy diet goes hand in hand with good gut health. Up your fiber intake by adding more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains to your diet. Certain types of fiber get fermented in the colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that provide energy to intestinal cells and favor the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. It’s recommended that men and women consume 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, respectively.

Prebiotic and probiotic foods are also critical for colon health. Prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria in the gut. Basically, prebiotics help the probiotics thrive. Prebiotic foods include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and whole oats.

Probiotics are the actual strains of beneficial bacteria that we want to accumulate in the colon. Talk to a dietitian to figure out the best probiotic supplement for you (different strains may have different effects), or simply add more probiotic foods to your plate. Kimchi, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt are all quality sources of probiotics.

Finally, drink more water. Adequate fluid intake is critical for digestion, especially if you’re increasing your fiber intake. Aim for at least 9 cups of water a day, and feel free to add your own natural flavors if H2O tastes boring to you. We love throwing in a slice of lemon, chopped mint, or cucumber slices.

Anthea Levi


Jennifer Maeng