Salt Water Flush

"Detoxing" is a huge part of "alternative" medicine and few therapies are as popular among natural health advocates as a bogus therapy called salt water flush. Here are two articles I wrote in 2008 about it.

Salt Water Flush - Does It Work?

(September 15, 2008, “What is this new thing salt water flush? Is it the same as a salt water enema?”

Actually, despite its name, a salt water flush isn’t an enema. It’s actually a “cleansing” practice that involves drinking large volumes of heavily salted water and then having that excess water “flushed” out via diarrhea.

Salt water flushes have actually been around a while now but when I originally investigated this practice for a 2007 article I couldn’t find even a single practitioner—“natural” or mainstream—who was willing to go on the record endorsing the practice. Like most cleansing and detox methods, this one is mainly the darling of anonymous “experts” with nothing better to do than hang around in internet forums dispensing questionable medical advice.

How To Do A Salt Water Flush

To perform a salt water flush you’re supposed to take 2 teaspoons of salt (usually some kind of sea salt) then dissolve that salt in a quart or so of warm water. Then you’re supposed to drink that salty solution as quickly as possible. In about 25 minutes or so, you’ll experience watery diarrhea that “flushers” claim is proof that your body is “flushing” itself of “toxins”.

The exact instructions and theories behind salt water flushing—like whether sea salt is better than table salt—vary from source to source, but the one thing they agree on, is that because the ratio of salt to water is so biologically perfect, you’re not actually absorbing any of the solution. At least that’s what they claim. Keep in mind that in preparation for this article, I couldn’t find even one naturopath, homeopath or herbalist willing to recommend this idea or agree with the theory of non-absorption. 

The TRUTH About Salt Water Flush

The fact of salt water flushing is that you ARE absorbing some of that salt. Ask yourself which seems more likely to you . . . Is the diarrhea proof of toxins being flushed out or is the diarrhea associated with flushing simply a desperate attempt by your body to restore its delicate sodium balance?

“But Sea Salt Is Different”

One of the most vehement arguments made by salt water flush advocates is that sea salt is somehow different from regular table salt and that’s why salt water flushes aren’t dangerous. Again, the various explanations supporting this idea vary from source to source but no one has ever actually provided any scientific evidence that sea salt is any less dangerous or that the sodium in sea salt is absorbed any differently than the sodium in plain old table salt.

So, after looking at both sides of this issue, you tell me. Is a salt water flush something you would do?


Is Salt Water Flushing Safe?

(September 22, 2008, “I read on Dr. Weil’s site that he doesn’t recommend using a salt water flush. Do you agree? I just don’t see how it could be dangerous.”

Yes, I do agree. And I think you will, too, when you realize what’s really happening. The main issue I have with the salt water flush is that it uses a LOT of sodium. Two teaspoons may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually two to four times the recommended amount of sodium most health experts recommend you consume in an entire day. That means that in just a few minutes, you’ve already doubled (at least) your daily intake of sodium—even if you eat nothing else for the entire day.

A level teaspoon of sat contains more than 2300 mg of sodium; two teaspoons puts you at well over 4500 mg. And if you follow the advice of some salt water flush proponents and use even more--like heaping spoonfuls--you could approach 7000 mg of sodium in a single setting without even realizing it.

And I do not believe for one moment the claims that this particular ratio of salt to water is somehow so perfectly balanced that your body doesn’t actually absorb any of it. You’ll see this claim made on every single pro-flushing message board on the ‘net but I’ve never seen any proof that it’s true. Nor have I ever met even a single credentialed herbalist, naturopath or homeopath willing to endorse drinking salt water as a “detox” method.

Could A Salt Water Flush Cause A Heart Attack Or Stroke?

Remember, your kidneys are the sodium regulators of your body. But when you consume more sodium than your kidneys can process, that delicate balance is lost. When you consume more salt than your body can process, the salt “builds up”—so to speak—in your blood. Why is this an issue? Well, salty blood is thick blood and thicker blood is harder for your heart to move.

Is this really a problem? I’ve never heard of anyone dying of a heart attack after doing a salt water flush but if I were at risk, I’d certainly have a talk with my doctor before I tried “flushing”.

Could Salt Water Flushes Cause Kidney Stones?

Excessive sodium intake causes your body to release calcium and this can put some people, especially those with a history of kidney stones, at risk to develop another one. Currently, the National Kidney Foundation recommends that people with a history of kidney stones limit their sodium intake to between 2000 and 3000 mg per day. That’s less sodium than is in a single salt water flush.

Get the FACTS About Sodium

If you would like the truth about sodium, talk to a qualified health care professional. Only your doctor is qualified to give you medical advice so bypass colorfully-named forum experts who sit around in chat rooms all day and ask someone who knows—like your primary care provider. 


National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (Unknown). Quick Facts on Salt.

National Kidney Foundation. (2007). Diet and Kidney Stones.

de Wardener, H., et al. (2002). Harmful effects of dietary salt in addition to hypertension.

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