“Down in the dumps” (Colon cleansers)

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We regularly brush our teeth, wash our hands, and shampoo our hair, so some advocates consider it a natural extension of hygienic protocol to frequently clean our colons as well. They further assert that the colon’s (obviously relative) cleanliness can be determined by the length, color, texture, buoyancy, and aroma of one’s toilet deposits.

This isn’t a subject I want to spend a whole lot of time contemplating, so I will rely heavily on the surgeon blogger Orac. He wrote that what proponents call the sign of a healthy colon may in fact be describing the opposite.

First, he explained, excrement shouldn’t be floating: “If your stool floats, it may have too much fat in it, which may mean that you’re not absorbing enough fat, which can be a sign of various diseases. It could also mean that you’re not absorbing the nutrients other than fat in your food, thus letting more nutrient- or fat-rich material reach the colon, where bacteria feast on it, producing gas bubbles in the stool. These gas bubbles make the stool more likely to float.” As to the color, even small amounts of red meat consumption will see a resultant dark brown dump. If it’s too light, Orac says, it could be the result of liver or pancreatic disease.

In the interest of equal time, here is some input from dayspaandcolonicctr.com, a proponent of keeping one’s colon clean, fresh, and sparkly: “If you’re not eliminating approximately the same amount that you are eating, the accumulation of old, hardened feces sticks to the colon walls, inhibiting its proper function of absorbing the remaining nutrients from the fecal matter. It is forced to absorb toxins from the build-up and from the parasites that make this debris their breeding ground.”

The silliest part of this screed is that if a diner eliminated all that he or she ate, nothing would be stored for energy, sustenance, or nutrition. Secondly, as is almost always the case with alt-med detoxing products, there are no specifics on which toxins are being removed or how the product is managing this.

Some websites go even further and claim that EVERY chronic disease is due to “bacterial poisons absorbed from the intestine.” But the winning entrant in this hyperbole competition still goes to dayspaandcolonicctr.com, which writes that a colon left to fend for itself will “distill the poisons of decay, fermentation and putrefaction into the blood, poisoning the brain and nervous system so that we become mentally depressed and irritable; it will poison the heart so that we are weak and listless; poisons the lungs so that the breath is foul; poisons the digestive organs so that we are distressed and bloated; and poisons the blood so that the skin is sallow and unhealthy; dull eyes and a sluggish brain overtake us; the pleasure of living is gone.”

The truth is, the stuff that tumbles out of us is leaving the body because it’s time for it to go, which means the colon and other organs are doing their jobs. Even if the colon cleansers worked as advertised, there is no benefit to increased bathroom visits by persons not constipated.

These products also boast about getting rid of bacteria, but regular bowel movements will manage that just fine. On a related note, bacteria has a poor PR department. Some bacteria, such as e. coli, are harmful to humans (although none of those will be impacted by colon cleansings). Then there are bacteria that have a neutral impact on humans and others that are beneficial, such as bacteroides thetaiotamicron, which breaks down plant food molecules and aids in digestion.

While there are parasitic diseases of the colon, they are rare in the Western world and even if one contracts them here, colon cleansers again won’t help. Only drugs specifically made to kill these parasites will be effective.

As with nearly 100 percent of alt-med products, colon cleansers come with anecdotes and photos a plenty, but no double blind studies. The associated pictures feature what are touted as the result of successful colon cleanses. One of the claims is that bentonite clay is responsible for rope-like stools that are touted as evidence of a poisoned colon being cleared. However, Orac writes that this shit happens, so to speak, when gastrointestinal tract liquid mixes with psyllium in the colon cleanser. In other words, the ropelike stool isn’t the result of an ignored colon, it’s the result of the product that is allegedly treating the condition.  

As to the assertions that rotting feces stuck inside us will poison the body, fuel disease, and damage organs, Orac writes this is true only in rare cases, cases in which the cause is something other than an ignored colon. Persons in these conditions need to see an ER physician or proctologist rather than quaffing colon-cleansing pills, powders, and oils.

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