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Doctors: Colon cleansing has no benefit but many side effects including vomiting and death

Colon cleansing - it's been described as a natural way to enhance well-being, but Georgetown University doctors say there's no evidence to back that claim.

In fact, their review of scientific literature, published today in the August issue of The Journal of Family Practice, demonstrates that colon cleansing can cause side effects ranging from cramping to renal failure and death.

The procedure, sometimes called colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy, often involves use of chemicals followed by flushing the colon with water through a tube inserted in the rectum. It has ancient roots, but was discredited by the American Medical Association in the early 1900s, yet colon cleansing has staged a comeback.

"There can be serious consequences for those who engage in colon cleansing whether they have the procedure done at a spa or perform it at home," says the paper's lead author, Ranit Mishori, M.D., a family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine. "Colon cleansing products in the form of laxatives, teas, powders and capsules with names such as Nature's Bounty Colon Cleaner tout benefits that don't exist." She also says it's important to remember the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no authority to monitor these products.

Mishori and her colleagues examined 20 studies published in the medical literature published in the last decade. She says that while these reports show little evidence of benefit, there is an abundance of studies noting side effects following the use of cleansing products including cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance and renal failure.

"Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity," she says.

And Mishori points out that colon cleansing services are increasingly being offered at spas or clinics by practitioners who call themselves 'colon hygienists' but they have no significant medical training. In fact, organizations such as the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy and others who promote colon cleansing require hygienists to have little more than a high school diploma.

Mishori says there are much better ways to enhance well-being: "Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get six to eight hours of sleep and see a doctor regularly."

In addition to Mishori, other authors include Aye Otubu, M.D., M.P.H. and Aminah Alleyne Jones, M.D., M.P.H. of the Georgetown University and Providence Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program in Washington, D.C. The authors report no personal financial interests related to the study.

The authors report no personal financial interests related to the study.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. In fiscal year 2009-2010, GUMC accounted for nearly 80 percent of Georgetown University's extramural research funding.

Karen Mallet | EurekAlert!
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