Laxatives, Enemas and Colonics

Paul A. Goldberg, MPH, DC, DACBN, DCBCB

We frequently encounter patients who employ laxatives, enemas and /or colonics, “cleanses”, cathartics, and other treatments to force bowel movements much to their harm. Such measures, particularly when used on an ongoing basis, as is often the case, impair natural metabolic processes and are weakening to the body. Cases of serious chronic constipation, colitis and other disorders, have been caused or contributed to by these forced procedures. Such unnatural measures rob your colon of its protective coating of mucous and weaken it. If your body does not want to move the bowel at a particular time, you should not think that you are smarter and force it do so. Your constipation will be corrected when the cause(s) behind it no longer exist.

Generally, constipation is systemic (not local) in origin often due to fatigue, toxicity, allergy and poor living habits. To correct constipation the functional causes must be sought out and addressed, building your overall health simultaneously. If you are tired and run down your bowels will reflect this. If you are depressed, your bowels will be sluggish; if you are in a state of chaos your bowels will reflect this also. The take away point is that bowel issues such as constipation are more often than not reflective of a general problem of the body rather than being the problem itself.

Most laxatives “work” by irritation. They irritate the bowel lining and the body tries its best to eliminate the irritant i.e. the laxative. When it does so whatever is in the bowel gets thrown out as well. This irritation drains the bowels energy and over time the bowel both weakens and adapts to the laxative so that it does not act upon the bowel any longer. Typically at that point people will move to more irritating substances or larger amounts of them. In doing so, over time, the person will find that they have taken what was originally a mild problem that could have been easily solved by addressing causal factors and made it into a chronic issue. The same can be said of enemas and colonics, which also become habit forming over time and can lead to bowel distention and poor functioning.

“Mind your own business and let the bowels mind theirs” is an old and wise adage. If you take the correct measures to build good health and are constant with them, bowel problems generally become a thing of the past.

Do not be concerned about absorbing poisons from your colon. The last half of your colon is for storage. The feces are in a semisolid form and very little is absorbed from this area. The notion that most people have a hardened, caked-on crust of toxic waste materials lining their colon, which “can only be removed by colonics”, is overblown and inaccurate. When your bowel moves, there is only voiding of what was previously excreted from your cells and what was then stored in the colon. Body toxicity occurs at the cellular level when cellular excretion become impaired.  Taking laxatives, “cleanses”, enemas or colonics does nothing to solve this.

Often a person’s bowels don’t move due to stress, most often common stressors such as a lack of rest and sleep, overeating, wrong eating, overwork, nervous tension, nervousness, lack of proper exercise, lack of fresh air and sunshine, etc. There are also occasions when your body finds it necessary to gather its energies for a purpose, as in serious sickness accompanied by lack of desire for food. During this time your colon may naturally remain inactive for a time.

If you break your arm you know better than to force it to move and it is similar for your bowels. Just as your arm when broken needs rest so does the GI tract in many cases. Address the causes of your constipation or other functional bowel issues by improving your overall health and living habits. Therein lies the basic answer to your constipation. In doing so you will not only have better bowel function but also will enjoy a higher level of vitality and general health.

Common behavioral habits that are important for normal bowel action include sufficient rest and sleep, healthful eating habits including the avoidance of overeating, sufficient fiber in the diet from vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds, regular bowel habits, modest activity and sufficient water intake. Such habits will also provide adequate B Complex Vitamins and Minerals needed for good elimination. Beyond that the avoidance of food allergens and checking for intestinal dysbiosis may be required in more stubborn cases. The restoration of adequate total body energy levels is particularly important, as again, constipation can be a reflection of a person who is simply run down. Patients who have a history of drug usage (prescription or otherwise), tobacco or caffeine usage are particularly vulnerable to the development of constipation and other bowel issues. Going beyond these general measures, in stubborn cases, a more extensive evaluation in the clinic may be required. This will include a thorough case history, physical examination and appropriate functional laboratory testing to identify the cause of the problem so that an effective course of action can be arrived at.

If we identify and address causes our health can be restored. This includes the restoration of normal bowel function. Look to your overall health as a first step and stop meddling with your bowels. It is often all that is required. Keep in mind that a deficiency of laxatives, “cleanses”, enemas and/or colonics is never the cause of anyone’s constipation.