Aug 26, 2003 - 11:17 am
Colon Cleansing & Cancer Risk
They are everywhere. Ads on television, on the Internet and in newspapers tout the virtues of colon cleansing supplements as a way to prevent colorectal cancer. Some of them even have graphic pictures of the "results" produced by taking these alternative remedies. Do colon cleansing products and processes reduce one's cancer risk?
In a word, no. "It's all nonsense," says Bernard Levin, M.D., vice president for cancer prevention at M. D. Anderson. "It's all about selling products for an exorbitant amount of money that you can buy over the counter for very little - if you even need them at all."
Among the claims made by colon cleansing products are:
A typical person has anywhere from a few ounces to several pounds of undigested red meat in their colon, which causes mucous buildup on the colon walls
"We dont even know the long-term effects of constant purging with colonic irrigation and supplements," Levin says. "If these people have a safe, effective product as they claim, they need to prove it. Do a research trial - dont go on the Internet and sell sweatshirts."
Levin, an internationally recognized colorectal cancer expert, says the colon is a complex, dynamic organ that is constantly shedding old cells - a process that rarely needs any help. He concedes that laxatives can help ease constipation, if used properly. "Chronic use of laxatives to cleanse the colon is not a good idea, since some drugs can alter the colon lining or upset the intricate balance of chemicals and bacteria."
When striving for a healthy colon, its all about what goes into your body. "Theres no doubt that diet has a lot to do with whats in the colon," Levin says. "If you're eating a lot of red meat and fat, it's not as good for you in general. The way to avoid or mitigate the effects of an unhealthy diet is not to change what's in the colon, but to change what comes in the front end."
The bottom line is that colon cleansers don't do anything to lower your risk of colon cancer. "A healthy diet (low in red meat and fat and high in fruits, vegetables, fiber and calcium), exercise, drinking in moderation and avoiding tobacco are the known elements that reduce colon cancer risk," Levin says. "Know your family history, and get screened earlier than age 50 if colon cancer runs in your family. For the rest of us, he emphasizes, "begin screening at age 50 by any of the recommended methods."