April – Colonic Cleansing

Written by Communications, April 19, 2018

If you ask me, spring cleaning is for windows, and not for our bowels or other tender body parts. However, type the word “detox” into your search engine and a vast number of unproven and outright false claims for detoxing the body will come tumbling down the computer screen.  All will be guaranteed to clean out your wallet but many can cause greater harm. It’s “buyer beware” when it comes to remedies like colonic cleansing and it’s my hope that this column can help.

Humans have long believed in the healing powers of behaviours like fasting and purging as ways to rid the body of unspecified toxins. Some religions have integrated these ancient beliefs into rituals or rules. Many of my friends continue to intermittently fast as part of their spiritual traditions. But while these ancient ways of thinking have a powerful allure, and may offer spiritual benefit, it’s important to understand they have limited value in their over-application to health and bodies. In fact these old ways of thinking are fueling an industry of unproven therapies that prey on the human need to feel clean and pure.

In Thunder Bay, the local Medical Officer of Health recently warned customers of two colonic cleansing locations to get tested for hepatitis B and C. These infections that can be transmitted when instruments are not disinfected properly. But this warning, and the Canadian media investigations into this practice of instilling large quantities of fluids into the bowel for the purpose of “detoxification” should not go unnoticed, or unheeded here in the Kawarthas. Perhaps it is a lack of awareness, or perhaps it is the celebrity endorsements or the widely believed claims that flushing out the bowels have health benefits that explain why there are at least two of these operations currently selling these very same services to people in the Peterborough area. I routinely walk by one every day on my way home from work.

“Colonics” are promoted as a way to rid the body of waste or toxins. Like a super-sized enema, large volumes of fluids, with different bonus ingredients like coffee or herbs, are infused into the intestines with the purpose of cleaning out those nasty toxins that have been accumulating there, like dust bunnies under the bed. But the human body already has its own multiple and finely tuned systems to deal with potential toxins – our livers actively alter the structure of toxins to make them less harmful. Our spleen filters out any misshaped or unwanted blood components. Our kidneys filter circulating blood continuously to remove unwanted metabolites. Our gastrointestinal tract and the microbiome that is hosted there do the same with the food that we eat.  Rather than helping us stay healthy or fight disease, harmful practices like purging, administering enemas or colonic irrigation have no place in our routines, unless medically prescribed as part of a diagnostic or surgical procedure.

Rather than improving health, as purported by some, colonic irrigation poses real risks of infection, perforation of the bowel, disturbing the body’s microbiologic balance, and disrupting the electrolytes that govern our internal biochemistry. Don’t be fooled – until we have better government regulation to protect consumers from the harms of false claims like these, it is up to the consumer to do the research and make a decision. There have been published scientific reviews of the evidence that are accessible for you to read. Professor Timothy Caulfield at the University of Alberta has published a book entitled “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything” where he debunks health myths like colon cleanses and gluten-free diets that have been perpetuated by celebrities. Professor Joe Schwartz at McGill University leads the Office for Science and Society, a great source of myth-busting. And then, closer to home, there is the charming and wise Dr. Mike Evans, based at the University of Toronto, well-loved for his wit and his artistic videos that often go viral. All of these experts would most likely agree that the only spring cleaning anyone needs is to dust off the running shoes and tune up that bike. It’s time to rev up the amount of daily exercise. Get enough sleep. Stop smoking. Don’t binge with the alcohol. And eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Spring can feel liberating – we get to take off our coats and boots. Let’s liberate ourselves from old and harmful ways of thinking of our bodies too.