A healthy gut is believed to promote wellness. But many people struggle with colon issues, leading them to try an herbal colon cleanse for relief. Proponents of the cleanse believe it is necessary to remove built-up toxins in the body; skeptics believe it's unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Herbal colon cleanses have been performed for centuries as a way to support bowel health and clear toxins from the body. It is believed that poor diet, environmental pollution, stress, and chronic constipation all contribute to a build-up and possibly compaction of waste (feces) in the intestines. The theory is that as this waste sits in the gut and decays, toxins are released into the body that may lead to illness and/or disease.
Performing a colon cleanse is meant to rid the body of excess waste and parasites, leaving you healthier, lighter, and more energetic. Herbal cleanses may sometimes be used by people who cannot tolerate chemical laxatives and need to clear the bowels prior to a medical procedure or to relieve constipation.
Types of Herbal Cleanses
There are several ways to perform a colon cleanse.
- Enema cleanse: An enema uses liquid to clear out the lower bowel. Most commonly, a flexible tube attached to a hot water bottle filled with warm liquid (water or herbal tea) or mineral oil is used. The tube is inserted into the rectum and the liquid gently squeezed from the water bottle and held in the rectum for several minutes. This usually produces bowel movements within a short period of time. In lieu of a water bottle, disposable enemas can be used.
- Herbal tea cleanse: Drinking specific herbs in the form of tea over a period of time can help cleanse the colon.
- Supplement cleanse: Herbal supplements are taken over a period of time to produce bowel movements and cleanse the colon.
- Colon hydrotherapy (high colonic): This is offered at some spas, health centers or natural health clinics. Water is usually used but occasionally herbal decoctions as well. The process uses a special machine with two flexible tubes that are inserted into the rectum -- one to slowly pump water into the colon and the other to remove waste and excess water. Colon hydrotherapy should only be performed in a sterile environment by a practitioner specially trained and licensed in the process.
Colon Cleansing Herbs
Herbs used in colon cleanses are those that have a laxative effect. An herbal cleanse regimen might contain one of the following herbs or a combination of different ones.
- Aloe Vera: Although best known for soothing burns, aloe vera is also a strong laxative. It's found in many herbal colon cleanse products but the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM) cautions that it can cause painful cramping and is not safe to use as a laxative.
- Dandelion: Considered a weed by many, dandelion is a versatile and healthy herb known for its body cleansing abilities. According to UMM, dandelion root is a mild laxative and believed to stimulate the entire digestive system.
- Licorice root: This herb has a mild laxative effect and helps stimulate the digestion system to help move waste from the body.
- Plantain psyllium: Psyllium is high in soluble fiber and mucilage and has powerful laxative effects. According to Medline Plus, it is often used to treat chronic constipation.
- Senna leaf: Senna is known for its strong laxative effects. In fact, according to Drugs.com, the herb was first used in the 9th century by Arabian physicians to purge the bowels. Senna is an FDA approved non-prescription laxative, according to Medline Plus.
- Buckthorn: Thanks to its content of anthroquinone glycosides, compounds that stimulate bowel movements, buckthorn is a powerful purgative.
- Chinese rhubarb: According to Reader's Digest The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs, Chinese rhubarb also contains anthroquinones and is a potent laxative.
Risks and Precautions
Few would dispute that herbal cleanses help clear waste from the colon, but is the practice safe? That depends on who you ask. Natural health practitioners stand by the process while many traditional health practitioners say it's dangerous and should be reserved for medical procedure preparation and not general detox.
The Mayo Clinic (Mayo) states on its website that most doctors believe colon cleansing is unnecessary because "your digestive system and bowel naturally eliminate waste material and bacteria." In other words, the body is designed to cleanse itself. In fact, Harvard Health Publications indicates that as long as you eat healthy, drink plenty of fluids, get adequate sleep, and exercise regularly, your body's self-cleansing system should work fine.
Mayo says that colon cleansing is not without risk and may cause the following:
- Cramping and bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bowel perforation
- Dangerous change in electrolyte levels
As a result, Mayo recommends taking the following precautions before and during a colon cleanse:
- Consult with your doctor, especially if you take prescription medications or herbal supplements, are pregnant or breast feeding or have a medical condition including bowel problems. Discuss any herbs you plan to use during the cleanse.
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the cleanse to prevent dehydration.
Where to Find
You can easily find herbal colon cleanses or teas online and in natural health stores. If you are generally healthy and are not pregnant or breast feeding or taking prescription medications, occasionally drinking a laxative herbal tea or performing an enema to cleanse the colon or relieve constipation is likely safe when used as directed.
If you decide to try a colon cleanse, the following products may be helpful:
- Yogi Detox Teas: Yogi offers a variety of detox and cleansing teas. Their teas are organic and most can be found in the tea section of your grocery store or natural health store. A box of 16 tea bags averages $5.00.
- Traditional Medicinals Smooth Move Tea: This organic tea offers relief from constipation and helps support the body's natural elimination process. Its primary ingredient is organic senna. Look for "Smooth Move" tea in your local natural health store or grocery store. A box of 16 tea bags sells for $4.99.
- Blessed Herbs Colon Cleansing Kit: This practitioner-recommended kit includes 30 ginger or peppermint toxin absorber packets, 90 vegetarian capsules of their herbal cleansing blend, a shaker jar, user's guide, and dosage calendar. The kit costs $89.50 and offers a 90 day money back guarantee.
- Enema Kits: Most drugstores carry enema kits. CVS sells an enema kit that includes a hot water bottle and flexible tubing for $16.79.
Keep in mind that, ultimately, the success of any colon cleanse depends on each individual's situation (any health concerns, use of prescription medications or supplements, etc.), and the verdict is still out on whether or not regularly undergoing herbal colon cleanses to detox your body is safe, effective, or necessary. Talk to your doctor before trying a colon cleanse to determine whether or not it's the right option for you.