Some of the most common questions I get from my patients are, “Should I do a cleanse or detox? Will it help improve my symptoms? What about my gut health or my appearance?”

Some people rave about the cleansed, glowing feeling they have after a colonic, while others feel dried out and dizzy. Colonic irrigation, hydrotherapy, or colonics refer to the practice of placing a tube into the rectum attached to special equipment through which large amounts of water, sometimes mixed with herbs or other substances, are pumped into the colon to remove waste matter. There is the possibility of minor complications such as infection from improperly cleaned equipment; dehydration, cramps and pain during the procedure; and electrolyte imbalances. Fortunately, more serious complications like heart failure from over-absorption of water and fatal perforation of the colon are extremely rare.

From my point of view, there are two potential drawbacks to colonics:

The first is the potential disruption of the colon’s unique and delicate bacterial environment when liquid is pumped in under high pressure. Although many practitioners of colonic irrigation claim that removing encrusted fecal matter in the colon actually enhances the growth of essential bacteria, the procedure can also indiscriminately wash away both good and bad species of bacteria, and taking a probiotic doesn’t come close to replacing the essential flora that may be lost.

The second drawback is the potential for dependency and colonic inertia (decreased motility) in people who undergo frequent colonics. The colon eventually realizes that much of its job is being done for it and may become less active in terms of contractility, leading to greater dependency on regular colonics for elimination. Part of the popularity of colonics is that people feel really good when their colons are empty, and colonics are really good at emptying the colon.

But the colon doesn’t need much help eliminating waste matter when we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing: eating a high-fiber, plant-based diet; avoiding processed food and sugar; drinking lots of water; and getting regular vigorous exercise. That will keep your bowels moving like clockwork – and will give you an all-over glow.

For those who are wedded to the idea of a more drastic cleaning out, a two- or three-day green juice fast along with a couple of tablespoons of ground psyllium husk daily can give you similar results, without disturbing your gut bacteria.

The Bottom Line: Ultimately, the less toxic your lifestyle, the less need you’ll have for detoxification.

By: Dr. Robynne Chutkan