Saturday, February 21, 2009

Facts About Colon Cleansing and Health

Diagram of the Human Intestine.Image via Wikipedia

Over the last couple of years I have noticed in a passing manner a particular set of infomercials and internet ads targeting colon health. They usually have some individual who has absolutely no credentials, no understanding of anatomy or physiology and no real life medical or surgical experience validating their claims. I hope to provide a voice of reason amongst all this marketing.

One of the myths promoted is the idea that your colon is lined with dry packed on fecal material that is contributing simultaneously to two very separate actions; absorption of toxins and the blocking of absorption. And they want us to believe that this is the reason we are fat, sick and tired. As a student both in undergraduate and medical school study from accredited and highly respected universities I had the opportunity to dissect many cadavers. I can tell you that not a single cadaver ever presented with fecal debris packed onto the lining of their respective colons or their small intestines. I never saw this phenomenon as described by our TV and internet marketing friends during my surgical residency or practice. While it is true fecal impaction can and does occur it occurs in the form of a blockage and not an intestinal wall build up. The graphic pictures of large lobulated black masses purportedly removed from a colon as a result of colon cleansing are used to frighten good people into using a product. Those pictures are not true or consistent with the so called “colon cleanse” products being sold. Those are photos of large impactions and or blockages that had been surgically removed. I have assisted in thousands of colonoscopies and never once did we find fecal matter collected or impacted along the wall of the colon.

An important and conveniently overlooked fact that our friends fail to explain is the true function of the colon. Although the large intestine harvests vitamins made by bacterial flora and reclaims most of the remaining water and some of the electrolytes, absorption is not the main function of this organ. The primary functions of the large intestine are propulsive activities that force the fecal matter toward elimination. Here is another interesting fact; while the large intestine is important for our comfort it is not essential for life. If the colon is removed as may be necessitated by colon cancer, then the terminal portion of the intestine is brought out through the abdominal wall in the form of an “ostomy”. Often we find with people obsessed with colon cleansing is a blackening of the colon wall and a lack of protective mucousa. Sometimes in the process of these ritualistic colon cleansings the colon wall can be torn or ripped creating a true medical emergency with possible fatal consequences. Remember that it is in the small intestines that absorption occurs.

So it is not necessary to take colonic cleansing aids as a means to “clean the walls of your colon” to achieve weight loss or avoid sickness. It is however a means to dislodge a lower intestinal blockage, stimulate the peristaltic action of the intestinal wall and or alleviate constipation. Some people find this sensation of cleaning their colon as “refreshing”. However a diet with fiber will do more for you than any of these so called colonic cleansing aids. And to think that the reason you may be overweight is due to poor absorption or a toxic build up in your colon is unfounded and untrue. First look at what you eat. For a one or two week period keep a log of what you eat and drink both quantity and frequency. Then make the appropriate adjustments to your diet. Avoid fads. Use high quality dietary supplements. Get regular moderate exercise. Drink plenty of water and get as close to 8 hours of sleep at night. Avoid eating after 8:00 PM. Acai can act as a detoxifying agent due to its high antioxidant level, polyphenols and fiber content.

If you feel compelled to clean your colon then be informed. Do it sparingly, perhaps once a year but certainly not more than twice a year. If you are constipated, have blood in your stool or are otherwise concerned about your colon seek professional advice.

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