Ask the Nurse: To Detox or Not to Detox

Detox advice

Dear Nurse Chris: I see all these television and newspaper advertisements for colon “detox” products. It seems to make sense what we clean out the toxins in our systems every once in a while. But are they safe and do they actually work? Nancy in Arlington Heights.

Dear Nancy:  In shorthand, the answers are probably no and even more probably no.

Remember what your mom used to say about not believing everything you hear or read?  Well, the same goes for believing what you are being told by TV advertisements is good medicine for you.

The worst medicine is the kind that “seems” to be true but for which there is no evidence. “Colon cleansers” are a big business but there’s not much evidence they work and because most are herbal-based, the government doesn’t regulate them the same as they do for other medicine. So it’s not even sure they’re safe.

First, “colon cleansing” doesn’t really address how the body works.  Fecal matter and toxins— parasites, pesticides, or chemicals—do not accumulate and stick to the colon wall, causing assorted ailments. In fact, fecal matter does not cling to the colon wall, and experts have found no evidence that toxins build up there. Richard Harkness, a consultant pharmacist and author of five books on evidence-based natural medicine, backs natural treatments, but he’s dead set against this one.

He says colon cleansing itself carries health risks, including side effects from questionable ingredients, dehydration, impaired bowel function, and disruption of normal, protective intestinal flora. Some laxatives can even worsen heart failure or cause kidney failure, while colonic irrigation or enemas could tear the rectum. Steer clear of all of these. Your body detoxifies itself perfectly well, thanks to your kidneys and liver. True, you may “feel” better after one of these cleansings but it’s because you stuffed yourself with junk food and are now eating better.

The best advice I can give is do some research on the product that you have seen advertised. When you use an Internet search engine for the product, always include the word “scam.” That will tell you what customers are saying
Talk to your doctor. In most cases I advise people to talk to their pharmacists because they have the most current information about the latest things to hit the market. I hesitate to encourage research on the web unless you go to reliable health care sites that have good, solid medical advice.