Trendy colon cleanses don't actually do anything to help your health, and they can even cause unwanted side effects, according to a new review of studies.
The review of 20 studies published over the last 10 years shows that there is little evidence that colon cleansing improves health or promotes weight loss, while there is much evidence that shows it is associated with bloating, vomiting, cramping, renal failure and even death.
The review, published in the subscription-only Journal of Family Practice, looked at both colon-cleansing drinks, as well as processes like colon hydrotherapy, where water is pumped in and out of the rectum via a tube to clean the colon.
"This is not a manifesto against complementary and alternative medicine, since I’m a big proponent," study researcher Dr. Ranit Mishori, a family medicine physician at Georgetown University Medical School, told MSNBC, but there's no scientific evidence that colon cleansing improves health, and scientists actually found that it can be harmful.
The idea of colon cleansing -- that is, ridding the body of toxins that supposedly accumulate in the colon, which can then spur a variety of ills -- has been around for centuries, but the American Medical Association said that the "procedure was invalid" in the early 1900s, CNN reported.
However, that hasn't hindered the popularity of colon cleanses. These days, colon cleanses include herbal teas, laxatives or other drinkable concoctions (which don't require FDA oversight) like the Master Cleanse, and colonic hydrotherapy, which involves a "colon hygienist" or "colon hydrotherapist" pumping water in and out of the rectum with a rubber tube, MSNBC reported.
However, this practice has the potential to damage the colon tissue, CBS News reported. In addition, some of these hygienists don't have the right training, which adds to the danger.
However, the procedure is safe if performed by a qualified therapist who uses the correct FDA-approved equipment, Dick Hoenninger, a spokesman for the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy, told CBS News.
The FDA only approves colon hydrotherapy equipment for medical purposes, like cleaning the colon before undergoing a colonoscopy or radiological exam, TIME, reported.
While the digestive system is efficient enough at removing waste on its own, according to the Mayo Clinic, proponents of colon cleansing say that the practice helps people to feel better, boosts the immune system and gets rid of toxins that are lurking in the gastrointestinal tract.
Russell Kolbo, a naturopathic doctor based in Washington who believes in the theory behind colon cleansing, said more rigorous studies are needed on the subject before people come to an absolute opinion on it, MSNBC reported. And an important note: People should not administer a colon cleanse unless they're licensed to do so.
If you want to undergo a colon cleanse to relieve constipation, the Mayo Clinic suggests instead trying these options: drinking water and fluids, eating a fiber-rich diet and getting regular exercise.