The condition of an inflamed colon. Bowel cleansing can cause some potential side effects, including colon ulcers.

THE trouble with medical science today is that almost everybody wants to play doctor. Remedies for every known illness or disease can be found on Google and YouTube.

I had the misfortune of attending to a female patient, who came in for a consultation when she noticed blood in her stool. The problem had persisted for a week and caused some lower abdomen discomfort. Upon examination, I discovered that her lower abdomen tissue was unusually tender.

The patient underwent colon-oscopy the same day. The results revealed that the distal (the lower part of the colon) was severely inflamed and populated with large ulcers, some of which were actively bleeding.

I extracted some tissue from the inflamed part of the colon and upon examination, deduced that the inflammation was caused by a chemical agent. She later revealed that she regularly underwent bowel cleansing with colon irrigation at an unnamed centre. She also confirmed that she did the procedure by herself at home periodically.

A day before she started bleeding, the patient washed the bowel cleansing tube with a strong detergent. She, however, neglected to clean the detergent inside the tube before inserting it into her anus. The chemical detergent was washed into her colon, causing her bowel to be burned badly.

The patient was warded and discharged after a few days. She fully recovered from the condition, and did not resort to the colon irrigation practice thereafter.

The practice of bowel cleansing dates back to the ancient Greek era and was popular in Mediterranean countries. It later spread to the Far East, and is now practised even in America. The basic premise of bowel cleansing is that toxins are present in bowel waste, some of which are encrusted along the bowel wall for years. The common belief is that the toxins can get into the blood stream if they are not removed.

Essentially, there are two ways to cleanse the bowel, according to those who practise it. One is by orally drinking herbal tea, enzymes and laxatives. In some cases, a person needs to fast for a week or more and consume only fruits and those products. The second way is through colon irrigation. Colon irrigation is a procedure where you lie on a table with a colon cleansing therapist inserting a small tube into your anus and pumping in up to 60 litres of water into your bowel.

Some may mix the water with coffee, enzymes or laxatives. Later, the water is allowed to flow out or let go through another tube. The procedures may need to be repeated several times for its full effect. The procedures can also be self-administered with the help of colon cleansing kits available in the market.

The big question to ask remains: “Is bowel cleansing helpful or beneficial to our health?”

Scientifically, there is very little evidence to support any health claims. In most instances, the claims are anecdotal without solid scientific evidence.

But, how about the toxins in our waste? Our body discharges toxins through the liver and kidney.

The toxins in the waste are released each time we open our bowel. There is a mucus layer along the bowel wall that prevents toxins from entering our body. Furthermore, the cells on the surface of colon regularly slough off and regenerate a new lining of cells almost every three days. Nothing can get encrusted on the surface permanently.

Medical reports and scientific research suggest that bowel cleansing can cause some potential side effects. This risk is greater if a person suffers from existing colitis (colon inflammation), colon tumour, recent bowel surgery, kidney or heart disease.

If you suspect any issues with your bowel, the safest route is a consultation with a specialist to recommend the best mode of investigation and therapy. Very often, claims by certain wellness or health products may pose a greater risk to your wellbeing.

The writer is a consultant gastroenterologist and internal medicine physician at Tropicana Medical Centre

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