Given the large number of toxins we encounter on a daily basis, from pesticides in our food to exhaust fumes in the air we breathe, cleansing ourselves from the inside out is a necessity. However, colon cleaning is not a new concept. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed that undigested food in the colon produces toxins which enter the bloodstream and poison the body (autointoxication), causing illness. Ayurveda too subscribes to a similar belief.1
If you are struggling with digestive issues and want to give colon cleansing a shot, here are some natural options you can try. We’ve covered a range of options from the relatively mild to some invasive procedures. Do keep in mind, though, that you may need to consult a professional before you try choices like basti or enemas.
1. Stay Hydrated
The simplest way of keeping your colon clean is making sure that you get enough fluids. This will prevent fecal matter from becoming hard and dry. That doesn’t mean you should just chug water by the liters. Most healthy adults need about 6–8 glasses of fluids a day, so concentrate on getting this in. You also don’t need to restrict yourself to water. Aside from water, drink a variety of fluids like milk, fruit juices, and even stews and soups.2
According to Ayurveda, having a glass of warm water first thing in the morning is a natural and effective way to cleanse the colon.3
2. Go On A Liquid Fast
Avoiding solid foods for a couple of days can help clean out your digestive system. But make sure you steer clear of sodas and alcohol too. Stick to fruit and vegetable juices that supply you with nutrients. According to alternative sciences like ayurveda or Unani, this will not only cleanse your colon but flush toxins out of your whole system.4
3. Have Fennel Tea
Remember that herbal laxatives are not meant to be used long term. Using a laxative regularly can make your bowel rely on it for normal bowel movements.
Fennel tea can help you detox as it has a laxative effect and can stimulate gastrointestinal mobility.5 Herbalists also believe that fennel can help flush out toxins from the kidneys and liver.
Having a cup of fennel tea thrice a day can be beneficial. To prepare the tea, steep 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds in 6 ounces of boiling water for 3–5 minutes.6
4. Drink Senna Tea
Senna is another herbal laxative that can be used for colon cleansing. Steep 1–2 gm of senna leaves for around 10 minutes in hot water to prepare a tea which can be had twice a day. Again, remember, this is not meant to be used long term. You should also check with your doctor before using senna if you have a history of inflammatory bowel diseases or bowel obstruction.78
5. Try Prune Juice
Prunes have also been traditionally used for their laxative effect. In fact, one study found that drinking 125 ml of prune juice twice a day was effective at combating mild constipation.9 This might be due to its high levels of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that is slowly digested, producing a laxative effect.10 The study also found that while prune juice worked as a laxative, it also increased flatulence. So don’t go overboard with this remedy.
6. Have Psyllium And Other Fiber-Rich Foods
Psyllium is a soluble fiber that comes from seeds of the herb Plantago ovata. When it comes in contact with water, it expands and increases the bulk of stool. This makes it easier to pass stool and relieves constipation. But remember, psyllium needs to be taken with sufficient water. Otherwise, it can swell up, causing an obstruction in your throat or bowels.11
Getting in around 25–30 grams of fiber in a day can also help keep your colon clean, by bulking up waste and aiding regular bowel movements. So be sure to add other fiber-rich foods such as carrots, broccoli, beans, fresh fruits, and whole grains to your diet. If your diet has been low in fiber, increase your intake slowly in order to avoid gas.12
7. Have Probiotics
Foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, and kimchi salad.
Probiotics are microorganisms that are good for your overall health and your gut health in particular. They serve two purposes when it comes to colon cleansing. First, these good bacteria can help with digestion and fight disease-causing pathogens, thus expelling toxins from your body and giving it an automatic detox. Second, most colon cleansing remedies can themselves wipe out these good bacteria as well – as one study on the effect of pre-operative bowel cleansing on gut bacteria showed.13
So if you are trying other cleansing options, having probiotics can help re-establish beneficial gut bacteria. Fermented foods like yogurt naturally contain probiotics and can help you do this.14 You can even make your probiotic foods at home.
8. Have Castor Oil
While the idea of consuming castor oil can be unappealing to many, this is an age-old remedy for constipation. Studies on older adults show that use of castor oil packs can improve the symptoms of constipation and relieve straining during defecation.15 The ricinoleic acid in the oil helps bowel movements. However, avoid this remedy if you’re pregnant, since consuming this oil is believed to induce labor.16 Too much castor oil could also lead to diarrhea.
9. Go For Ayurvedic Enema Therapy (Basti)
Please note that no alternative therapy advises random or indiscriminate colon cleansing using enemas or laxatives. It is always administered as part of a structured regimen to treat a specific illness or health condition.
The ancient system of ayurveda uses enema or basti therapy to not only flush out fecal matter but also remove ama (toxins) from your tissue. This therapy is considered to be helpful for a range of conditions such as constipation, arthritis, and gout.
Depending on your individual constitution and health issues, your ayurvedic doctor may recommend an appropriate enema such as an unctuous enema (anuvasana) with ghee along with herbal medicated oils or a non-unctuous enema (known as asthapana) with a herbal decoction, some oil, and milk. Your detox regimen will also typically include other aspects such as diet management or other therapeutic ayurvedic procedures like svedana (induced sweating).17
An enema can also be performed at home to cleanse your colon. It is usually done with a saline solution in a bag with a plastic tip attached to it. The tapered tip of the tube is placed in the anus and the fluid is then emptied into the rectum by lifting the bag, letting gravity do the rest. This should loosen stool, trigger a contraction of your rectal muscles, and help remove waste. But even though home enema kits are readily available, it would be best to do this only if a doctor suggests it to you. Remember, there are potential side effects when it’s not done properly.
Colonic Irrigation Can Only Be Done By Professionals
During colonic irrigation, warm water is passed into your rectum through a tube to expel waste from your bowels. The water flushes out your colon, and waste comes out through the tube. The process can last around 30–45 minutes and, unlike an enema which uses a small amount of fluid, about 60 liters of water can be passed through your colon during this time! Herbal infusions too may be added to this water sometimes. This is not recommended for those who have an infection, inflammatory condition such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart problems. It should also be avoided during pregnancy.18
Colon Cleansing Should Never Be Done Without A Doctor’s Advice
We strongly advise that you get a professional to sign off on and oversee more invasive or complex forms of colon cleansing. Remember colon cleansing can’t be a random weekend detox ritual or a “treatment” session you decide to get at the spa. Also, pass up on herbal combination kits available in stores or online that make tall claims.
Today, colon cleansing using enemas, laxatives, and colonic irrigation have very staunch advocates world over, but there has been some backlash about potential side effects and questions about its effectiveness. Critics say that your body is naturally capable of eliminating toxins and fecal matter and you really don’t have to force the issue. Moreover, if not done right, colon cleansing using invasive techniques can have a range of side effects from abdominal pain and nausea to electrolyte imbalance and liver and kidney failure.19 20 On the other hand, although there may not be much scientific research on it yet, people who advocate colon cleansing report benefits ranging from weight loss to improvement in skin tone and bowel function.
The bottom line? While not all people need a colon detox regularly, some people struggling with poor bowel health or allergies have been seen to benefit. For instance, colon cleansing practices like enemas have been found to relieve constipation.21 So, is there a middle path you can follow? Yes, say a firm “no” to random or indiscriminate colon cleansing. And always get professional guidance before you try more invasive techniques.
|↑1||Chen, Thomas SN, and Peter SY Chen. “Intestinal autointoxication: a medical leitmotif.” Journal of clinical gastroenterology 11, no. 4 (1989): 434-441.|
|↑2, ↑12||Constipation and Impaction. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑3||Hebbar, J.V. Living Easy with Ayurveda. Patridge Publishing, 2015.|
|↑4||Rizvi, Aasiya. Sacred Remedies: Ayurveda, Unani & Phytotherapy Cures for Common Ailments. Akkas Publications, 2013.|
|↑5||Moura, Lucinewton S., Raul N. Carvalho Jr, Mirian B. Stefanini, Lin C. Ming, and M. Angela A. Meireles. “Supercritical fluid extraction from fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): global yield, composition and kinetic data.” The Journal of supercritical fluids 35, no. 3 (2005): 212-219.|
|↑6||Grande, David. 10 Day Detox Diet: Complete Natural Detox Guide with Herbs: The Complete Natural Herbal Guide to the 10 Day Detox. Speedy Publishing LLC, 2014.|
|↑7||Senna Tea. University of Washington.|
|↑8||Sage, Crystal. Heal Beneath the Surface: Become Your Own Best Healer Using True Healing Solutions. Author House, 2011.|
|↑9||Piirainen, Laura, Katri Peuhkuri, Karin Bäckström, Riitta Korpela, and Seppo Salminen. “Prune juice has a mild laxative effect in adults with certain gastrointestinal symptoms.” Nutrition research 27, no. 8 (2007): 511-513.|
|↑10||Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis, Maria, Phyllis E. Bowen, Erum A. Hussain, Bernadette I. Damayanti-Wood, and Norman R. Farnsworth. “Chemical composition and potential health effects of prunes: a functional food?.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 41, no. 4 (2001): 251-286.|
|↑11||Psyllium. University of Maryland.|
|↑13||Stavrou, George, and Katerina Kotzampassi. “Gut microbiome, surgical complications and probiotics.” Annals of Gastroenterology: Quarterly Publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology 30, no. 1 (2017): 45.|
|↑14||Probiotics: In Depth. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑15||Arslan, Gülşah Gürol, and İsmet Eşer. “An examination of the effect of castor oil packs on constipation in the elderly.” Complementary therapies in clinical practice 17, no. 1 (2011): 58-62.|
|↑16||Tunaru, Sorin, Till F. Althoff, Rolf M. Nüsing, Martin Diener, and Stefan Offermanns. “Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 23 (2012): 9179-9184.|
|↑17||Tirtha, Swami Sadashiva. The Ayurveda Encyclopedia: Natural Secrets to Healing, Prevention, and Longevity. Sat Yuga Press, 2007.|
|↑18||Is colonic irrigation available on the NHS?. National Health Service.|
|↑19||Colonic Irrigation: Is it dangerous?. The Guardian.|
|↑20||“Detoxes” and “Cleanses”. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑21||Constipation and Impaction. Harvard Health Publications.|