A popular natural health newsletter tells you that toxic sludge builds up in your colon, and of course they will sell you a product to remove it. This is nonsense. You don’t need to cleanse your colon, and frequent use of these products can be harmful.
Colon cleansers are laxatives that soften your stool. They are supposed to prevent disease by clearing toxic chemicals from your colon, but the human body is so effective in protecting itself from the contents of the colon that enemas and laxatives are necessary only for people who have diseases or conditions that interfere with normal elimination. An article from Israel in Archives of Internal Medicine shows that bowel cleansing can cause severe loss of potassium that can cause irregular heart beats and even death in elderly people (1).
Sodium phosphate that is used in some colon cleansers causes a very significant loss of potassium though the colon. Younger people usually do not develop low blood potassium levels because their kidneys are usually strong enough to retain potassium. But older people often have weakened kidneys that cannot retain potassium, causing low blood levels of potassium.
Other research shows that regular use of laxatives and colon cleansers can harm you by blocking the absorption of nutrients from your colon into your bloodstream and causing you to lose necessary minerals. There are two absorption systems in your body. First the food that you eat passes into your stomach and upper intestines, where secretions from your mouth, liver, stomach, intestines and pancreas contain enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into their building blocks, which are absorbed into your bloodstream where they are available for your body to use. Food that is not broken down into basic sugars, amino acids, fatty acids and glycerol cannot be absorbed, so it passes to your colon where it is broken down by bacteria.
So far, researchers have identified more than 500 different types of bacteria that grow naturally in your colon. Almost all are harmless and some break down the unabsorbed carbohydrates into short chain fatty acids that are necessary for your health. These short chain fatty acids are absorbed from your colon can help to heal ulcers, prevent colon and other cancers, reduce the pain of arthritis or psoriasis, lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure and help to prevent heart attacks.
Enemas, laxatives and other colon-cleansing products can deprive you of good bacteria and these healthful short chain fatty acids, and cause you to lose basic nutrients from your colon. If you suffer from frequent constipation, try removing all refined carbohydrates from your diet (all foods made with flour, white rice or milled corn), and drinking more fluid. If that does not relieve the problem, check with your doctor. Habitual use of colon cleansers or laxatives can be harmful to your health.
1) Archives of Internal Medicine 2003;163:803-808.