You can hardly turn on your television without being bomabarded with informercials for “natural” colon cleansers. But are herbal-based colon cleansers really effective or are they just another attempt to sell you another “natural” product that you don’t really need? Here’s the truth about these “natural” cleansing products—from someone who has devoted her career to natural medicine:
Where Did The Idea Of Colon Cleansing Come From?
Colon cleansing is a very old therapy that goes back to at least the ancient Egyptians. They believed that all disease started out as rotting food in the bowel and wrote extensively about various ways to rid the body of this “poison”. Modern science has completely disproved this idea but for some reason, many in “natural” medicine just won’t let it go. A few years ago, the “rotting food in the bowel” idea found a new audience, thanks in large part to internet discussion groups.
Not only do many “natural” practitioners embrace this discredited idea, they go even further by claiming that we’re all going through life with 5-45 pounds of old, impacted feces inside our guts. And, as you’ve probably seen, some of them have produced some pretty explicit photos to back up their stories.
Mucoid Plaque Is A Complete & Utter Myth
On some infomercials (and several web sites) you’ll see the term “mucoid plaque”. This is the mucous-based “stuff”, for lack of a better term, that’s supposedly coating the inside of your colon and preventing your large intestine from working. The truth is, mucoid plaque doesn’t even exist.
The term “muoid plaque” is a term created by a writer named Richard Anderson who—and this will come as no surprise to the skeptics—sells colon cleansers. And Mr. Anderson even acknowledges making up the term in his article, “What Is Mucoid Plaque”. The phrase does not appear in any medical text—only this article.
So Why Do People Think Colon Cleansers Work?
To fully understand how cleansers trick people into believing that they work, it’s important to explain exactly what they are. And what the vast majority of herbal-based cleaners are, is just plain old fiber. Now, some have herbs and other ingredients with believed anti-parasitic and/or laxative propeties, but colon cleansers are mainly just fiber. And fiber “bulks up” when when it comes into contact with moisture. In fact, you can demonstrate this yourself by dropping a capsule into water and watching how it expands as the shell dissolves.
So let’s assume that you’re a typical American. You probably eat a diet that’s relatively low in raw fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains. In other words, you probably have a diet that’s pretty low in fiber. And you probably have only a few bowel movements a week.
But let’s say that you begin a cleansing regimen. Your dietary fiber probably doubles (or even triples) and you now have 2 or 3 bowel movements a day for 2 or 3 days in a row. Maybe your bowel movements are more comfortable and, maybe, you feel “finished” for the first time in a very long time. That’s exactly what fiber does—it speeds up your colon, bulks up your stool, and helps some people feel “empty” after they use the toilet.
Now, isn’t it easy to understand why so many people feel that they’re being “cleaned” when they use a colon cleanser? After all, what could possibly be wrong with bigger, more frequent and vastly more comfortable bowel movements?
Is Colon Cleansing Harmful?
The truth is, most colon cleansers are perfectly harmless. But you can get exactly the same effect just by consuming plain old psyllium—the “active” ingredient in Metamucil (R)—for far less money. Whether you decide to do a colon cleanse or not is entirely up to you. Many people find that a colon cleanse is a great kick-start to a new, healthier eating regimen. But if you decide to pass, that’s OK, too.
And Here’s My Best Argument Against Colon Cleansers:
Have you ever had a colonoscopy? If you have, then you know that in the days leading up to your procedure, your doctor has you follow a fairly strict regimen of food and drugs to empty your colon. Yet, no one doing this type of cleanse ever reports passing black, rubbery bowel movements like the ones you see on colon cleansing web sites. And if you’ve ever accompanied your spouse to his or her colonoscopy, you know that all the doctor sees is pink, clean tissue.
Where did all the “dried up” or “excess” fecal matter go? It wasn’t voided during the pre-operative cleanse and it doesn’t show up on camera during the procedure. Thousands of colonoscopies are perfomed every year in this country but not a single one has ever found evidence that we’re all walking around with “dried up” fecal matter just waiting to make us sick.