This article was first published in The Skeptical Inquirer.
Laxative teas, coffee enemas, and detox diets abound on social media. Proponents claim that our colons are clogged with pounds and pounds of impacted feces. This purported “toxic sludge” can be blamed for just about every ailment, from diabetes to cancer, arthritis to asthma. It’s the reason you’re not losing weight, you’re always tired, and you have a rash on your elbow. The only problem with this paradigm is that we do not have massive amounts of fecal material in our colons, and cleansing our intestines does nothing except increase our toilet time.
Even if you’ve never heard of a colon cleanse by name, you’ve likely heard one of its pseudonyms. Everyone from Dr. Oz to the Kardashians has pushed juice diets, flushes, detoxes, colonics, and other words that mean clearing the crud out of your intestine. Not everyone focuses on the poopy parts of the story, but a quick look at the ingredients of Instagram’s famous detox teas shows that they’re largely based on laxatives.
As I said before, we simply do not have mounds of waste built up in our bodies at all times. If that’s true for you, you need medical attention immediately, not a detox product. Clearing out the nonexistent waste cannot, therefore, have the health benefits proponents proclaim. On the contrary, our bodies are excellent detoxifiers. Our livers, kidneys, skin, and other organs do, to quote Dr. David R. Heiman, “a better job than any homemade solution could.”
Even if you’re desperate to slim down temporarily and willing to take all the risks, cleansing your colon is not the answer you’re searching for. Experts say that you’re liable to lose a couple of pounds at most.
Unfortunately, the trend of scapegoating poop for every possible illness could lead patients to delay or avoid actual medical treatment, prolonging or worsening their condition. The colonics and detox products are far from benign as well. There have been several noted cases of infections resulting from colonic irrigation. Other side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and even kidney failure. In addition, take it from someone who has had a medically necessary and doctor-administered enema; it was extremely unpleasant.