Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.See all posts »
Do Our Colons Really Need Cleansing?
Am I the only one that is baffled by the continuing popularity of colon cleanses? I’ve always thought that our bodies naturally eliminate all that we ingest. But maybe there’s more to this than I thought because, on a recent visit to my local Whole Foods Store, I counted 17 different brands of colon cleanses meant to “purify, capture and remove.” And just like toothpaste and feminine pads, this isn’t a one size fits all type of product. There are a lot of cleansing “styles” to choose from depending on your personal requirements.
For example, some body-cleansing products are made for daily use, while others are designed for 7-day “quick”, or longer, 14-day, regimens. You can cleanse “smart,” “raw,” “complete,” and “perfect.” Some are for first-time users, and still others are blended with probiotics. Maybe we’ll soon see ads for “cleansing coaches” to help us sort through all of this.
I must say, the idea of a colon cleanse doesn’t sound too appealing. But the purported health benefits certainly do. Some producers claim that clearing the colon of toxins will boost your energy, enhance your immune system, improve your mental outlook, and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Some physicians don’t recommend colon cleansing for detoxification arguing that the digestive system naturally eliminates waste and bacteria. But others do, believing that proactively removing toxins from your GI tract can improve your health by promoting healthy intestinal bacteria.
Last week, I asked one GI specialist, Dr. Robynne Chutkan, founder and Medical Director of The Digestive Center for Women in Chevy Chase, Md., what she thinks about colon cleanses. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
What is the purpose of a colon cleanse?
The colon really doesn't need "cleansing" since it's not dirty. The term refers more generally to the concept of giving your body a break from all the unhealthy processed foods (and drinks) many of us consume on a daily basis. We are cleaning out the junk not so much by cleaning out our colons with the juice but by substituting the juice for the junk.
What exactly are we cleansing? And is this necessary for good GI Health?
A juice cleanse is by no means necessary for good digestive health. If you eat a nutritious plant-based diet and avoid unhealthy processed foods you should be just fine.
If you recommend this, how often is necessary?
A cleanse isn’t really “necessary” in anyone to begin with. That being said, it can be helpful even if you already eat a lot of fiber. Many people find that doing a short cleanse at the change of each season (four times a year) is a good schedule. The length of time can vary but anything more than a day or two should be with medical supervision.
Who would be a good candidate for cleansing?
Anyone can benefit but particularly if you are constipated, bloated, eating a lot of heavy or processed foods (meat, cheese, dairy, soy, wheat), drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol.
Dr. Chutkan told me that when she is feeling sluggish from over-eating and stress, she’ll make herself a green smoothie for dinner that she finds refreshing and revitalizing. She was kind to share the recipe with me ...and now you. Here it is:
Dr. Chutkan’s Smoothie
1 small container Greek Yogurt (optional)
1 ripe banana
2 cups mixed berries (Blueberries and strawberries/fresh or frozen)
1 cup raw greens (spinach, collards of kale/fresh or frozen)
1 TBS psyllium husk
1 TBS ground flax seed
2 cups crushed ice
2 cups water
Blend well and drink immediately after blending
Makes four servings
Wendy Hoffman writes about women’s health in midlife at www.menopausetheblog.com