Colon cleansing can cause side effects.
“We don’t have real data on either the healthy or unhealthy side effects from cleansing methods,” Wolf said. Most of the known side effects come from case reports described in the medical literature and not from research studies, of which there are few.
Colon cleansing with laxatives, herbal formulations or enemas might increase a person’s risk of becoming dehydrated if the individual does not drink enough fluids, Wolf said.
Inducing diarrhea can also change people’s electrolyte levels. Shifting levels of sodium might cause lightheadedness, and low potassium levels may cause leg cramps or abnormal heart rhythms, Wolf said.
Some herbal cleanses have also been linked with liver toxicity and aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder.
Case reports suggest colon hydrotherapy may cause abdominal cramping, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. More-severe complications may include perforating the bowel, serious infections, electrolyte imbalances, kidney problems and heart failure.
There’s little scientific evidence that colon cleansing actually removes toxins from the body or improves health.
A review study published in 2001 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that there were no rigorous studies to support the practice of colon cleansing as a way of improving or promoting general health.
And because cleansing products and methods rarely name the specific toxins they supposedly remove from the body, there’s been no research measuring how effective cleansing practices may be at actually eliminating these substances, or demonstrating the health benefits of removing them, Wolf said.
Cleansing is not an effective strategy for weight loss.
A person who does a cleanse may initially lose a few pounds, but that is a temporary loss, resulting from the removal of water weight and stool, and not from a permanent loss of fat. Although it could be motivating to see results on the scale for a few days, cleansing is not a long-term solution to a weight problem, Wolf said.