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January 5, 2015 | 2 minute read

Do herbal enemas and other types that cleanse the colon protect against colon cancer?

Q: Do herbal enemas and other types that cleanse the colon protect against colon cancer?

A: No well-controlled, scientifically accurate studies offer support for such suggestions. The mucus and bacteria that product advertisers talk about removing are a normal part of our digestive system, helping it to function and stay healthy. Suggestions that we need special procedures to remove toxins are unfounded. The kidneys and liver have intricate systems to filter and eliminate toxins. Toxins can come from food and from the breakdown of food. Studies do show that food wastes move through the digestive system considerably faster in people who eat high-fiber diets than in those whose diets are low in fiber. Some scientists suggest that fiber helps lower risk of colon cancer in part by reducing the time that any cancer-causing substances in waste are in contact with intestinal membranes. Other scientists credit the healthful substances that intestinal bacteria produce from fiber as cancer-protective.

Not only are colon cleanses, sometimes called colonic irrigation, unlikely to protect against cancer, frequent use of high colonic enemas and other products for colon cleansing might even have negative health effects by reducing populations of health-promoting bacteria called the microbiota that live in your digestive tract. Safety of cleanses or irrigation depends on how they are done; irrigation with large amounts of coffee or other fluids have been linked with some deaths, mostly from the result of severe electrolyte imbalances. To lower risk of colon cancer and for better overall health, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommendations supported by strong scientific evidence are to eat a mostly plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans; get regular exercise; limit consumption of red meat, processed meat and alcohol; and maintain a healthy weight.

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