This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in the June 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Makers of various items sold over the counter and online claim their products "cleanse" the large intestine, or colon. Proponents say that "detoxifying" with those products prevents waste from building up and toxic substances and parasites from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
Our reporters searched for published scientific research, reviewed the data at the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent, evidence-based compendium that evaluates natural products for ConsumerReportsHealth.org, and interviewed medical experts.
We found insufficient reliable evidence that colon-cleansing products are safe or effective for improving general health. But we did find some cause for concern. When they are administered too often, laxatives and enemas might prevent normal bowel movements or lead to a potentially deadly depletion of vital electrolytes.
Moreover, the notion that people should flush out their bowel for general health isn't plausible, experts we consulted said. Waste does not accumulate in firm masses on intestinal walls, spreading toxins into the bloodstream, says Mark DeLegge, M.D., a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association in Bethesda, Md. He suggests staying regular by eating foods that are rich in fiber, including vegetables (broccoli, carrots, spinach, and squash), fruits (apples, bananas, and pears), whole grains (barley, whole or rolled oats, and whole wheat), and legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, and peas). If you're concerned about constipation, find cost-effective treatments in our free CR Best Buy Drugs report at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.