To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse …

At first pass, a cleanse sounds like a good idea. After all, I have been abusing my gastrointestinal system with fried food, chocolate and dairy. To make matters worse, I have been washing this all down with diet coke and dirty martinis. Wouldn’t a good, thorough cleaning do wonders to reverse all the damage I have done? The GI system is just plumbing, after all. What goes in, must come out.
A couple of years ago, I did a three day cleanse for no good reason. I think I did it because everyone was doing it, and it sounds cool to say, “None for me. I’m on a cleanse.” (I pray my kids have better peer pressure defenses than their mom.) My husband did it at the same time. We had very different experiences.
It arrived innocently at the door — 6 harmless looking bottles a day. Three of the bottles contained a swampy, green liquid, one a spicy lemonade, one — the only palatable one — a white, chalky substance and one a red, beet-like beverage. The idea was to drink all six, water as needed and nothing else. By the end of the first day, I felt generally lethargic. By day three, I was upping my life insurance. My husband, on the other hand, worked out every day, was sickeningly cheery and had more energy than ever. Sometimes, I am not sure why I love him. I did lose 6 pounds … then, I promptly gained seven.

1. In medical terms, a colonic cleanse is something that washes out your colon. Its use can be traced back to ancient Greece. The theory behind cleansing is this: undigested food sits on the wall of the colon and releases toxins into the body. Getting rid of the particles will get rid of the toxins and will improve your overall health. There are two ways to do it — from above or from below. You can take supplements by mouth that work as laxatives, or you can use enemas. There are practitioners who will perform colonic irrigation. Click on the link for more on that topic — it is too early in the day for me to type it.

2. Other things that call themselves cleanses – Most of the cleanses being touted by nutritionists and celebrities aren’t true colonic cleanses. They would be even more unpleasant if they were. Nutritional cleanses are designed to “clean out” your system by providing a large amount of vitamins and probiotics without a lot of calories. They are, essentially, a well-packaged liquid diet.

3. There is no good research to support colonic cleansing of any type. Purported benefits include weight loss, increased stamina, immune system strengthening, improvement in concentration and mental function and colon cancer risk reduction.

4. Risks vary based on an individual’s baseline health status and the intensity of the cleanse. They range from increasing risk of infection to bowel perforation. Cleanses can also cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and dehydration. Some cleanses will interfere with other medications. If you are taking meds, especially blood thinners, discuss any cleanse with your doctor before starting.

5. While most medical evidence shows no health benefit to colonic cleansing and detoxification, an occasional nutritional cleanse in a healthy, active person will probably cause no harm. I may do one again just because I like the way it sounds.

A lot of the cleanses are fairly pricey. Most of them will result in weight loss, but believe me, you will gain it back quickly. The best way to take care of your colon is through simple, good nutrition. Eat a lot of fiber, limit your red meat intake and drink lots of water. Try these three simple steps for one week, and I promise you will feel better and have more energy — now THAT really sounds good.

If you had an experience with a cleanse, good or bad, please share it.

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