By Dr. Sasha Slipak
Spend any amount of time reading about wellness trends and you’ll likely come across information on colon cleanses. They boast benefits such as helping you lose weight, improving your mood, and boosting the immune system.
The process of colon cleansing has been around for thousands of years. There are two main types – in-office and at home.
In-office colon cleanses typically take place at a spa or wellness center. During your appointment, you’ll lie on a table while a technician inserts a thin tube into your rectum to send water (and sometimes herbs) into your colon and large intestine. This type of procedure may also be known as a colonic or hydrotherapy.
Cleanses can also refer to supplements you take at home to clean out the colon, including:
- Herbal or “detox” teas
Some of these cleanses claim to remove toxins from the body. But here’s what they don’t tell you: The process of “cleansing” the colon can actually remove healthy gut bacteria. These healthy microbes play an integral role in your overall health, impacting everything from your immune system to your cholesterol levels.
Removing good bacteria during a colon cleanse can lead to side-effects like:
- Gas and bloating
So, if you’re considering a cleanse, there’s really only one scenario in which you should get one: to prepare for a colonoscopy. If you have a colonoscopy coming up, your healthcare provider will give you guidance on the right way to prep for it.
If a colonoscopy isn’t in your immediate future, you can skip the cleanse and take other steps to keep your colon in good health.
- Limit alcohol. If you do drink, stick to one drink per day – max. (One serving is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.)
- Cut back on red meat. To reduce your risk of colon cancer, eat no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week (approximately four servings). Consider swapping red or processed meats for poultry and fish.
- Eat a balanced diet. Fill your plate with fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy, fermented foods, and lean proteins.
- Exercise more. Aim for being active for at least 20 minutes a day, three to four times a week. Choose moderate exercise such as walking, running, swimming, or lifting weights.
- Try a fiber supplement. Besides keeping you regular, adding fiber to your diet can aid digestion and improve colon health.Supplements come in a variety of forms, including:
- Probiotic capsules
- Drinkable powder
- Chewable tablets
In addition to lifestyle changes, it’s also important to get screened regularly for colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the United States. But it’s one of the few types of cancers that can be prevented. In its early stages, colon cancer often has no symptoms, which is why getting a colonoscopy is so important.
The American Cancer Society recommends all men and women with an average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screenings at age 45.
If you’re worried about your risk, talk to your doctor. They can help build a personalized care plan tailored to your needs and personal history.
Sasha Slipak, MD, is a colorectal surgeon who sees patients at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital, Geisinger Gray’s Woods, and Geisinger Medical Center. For more information about colorectal cancer screenings or colorectal surgery at Geisinger, visit geisinger.org/ColonHealth, or call (570) 672-4445.