THE BLOG
10/17/2013 12:03 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Colon Cleanse Is the New Penance

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Colon cleanses are all the rage. Many people have convinced themselves that they need to rid their bodies of the "lethal toxins" which have built up, like so much drain-clogging gunk, due to their poor lifestyle choices. We're talking months of McD's drive-thrus, colossal-sized Claim Jumper dinners, Cronut breakfasts and midnight binges with Benny & Jerry.

There are a variety of body cleansing versions of Drano available- - juice concoctions, pills containing "all-natural herbs," enemas or laxatives, singly or in combination. I've often wondered why the GI docs don't take advantage of this trend and tell their patients that colonoscopy prep is just a colon cleanse. They might get more takers.

Detoxing isn't pleasant, but that's the whole point. It involves starving yourself, drinking noxious fluids, enduring GI cramps and visiting the bathroom more often than someone with food poisoning. But, that's all fine because you feel you deserve it. After all, you know you've abused your body. Bring on the warranted punishment! As an added benefit, you'll probably lose a few pounds due to calorie deprivation. It might just be the jumpstart you need to finally start losing those extra 10 pounds. Or has it gone up to 20? So, what's not to like?

This self-inflicted punishment strikes me as the bodily equivalent of going to the Catholic priest, coping to your misdeeds, performing the prescribed penance, having your sins washed away and starting anew. It's like Larry Hagman getting a new liver after destroying his first one or Jimmy Carter confessing that he'd lusted in his heart for women other than Rosalynn. In some twisted way you enjoy the self-punishment of the cleanse. You get to start over tabula rasa.

The only problem is that this ablution, like the vaginal douche, is based on a faulty premise. It presumes that the human body is incapable of processing food and ridding itself of the unabsorbed by-products. Since many of us lack a basic understanding of our own bodily functions and imagine that our insides look like a greasy community BBQ grill, we fall prey to the delusion that we need to follow a prescribed regimen to remove the aftermath of too many servings of burgers and fries. In fact, the body has amazingly efficient self-cleaning organs -- the liver and kidneys -- which work miraculously well to process what we eat and to remove the waste products.

The truth is that a colon cleanse is unnecessary at best and may even put your health at risk. An examination of 20 studies on the topic by Georgetown University researchers, found "absolutely no evidence that colon cleansing helps. Instead, we found that it can be harmful." Some of the potential dangers include cramping, bloating, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance, renal failure and even death.

We need to fashion a better way to beat ourselves up after we overindulge. How about something like traffic school -- perhaps a pricey, mandatory, day-long course in human physiology? What are your suggestions for public self-flagellation?