Could a Colon Cleanse Really Cure Acne?
Can a colon cleanse clear up acne? Unless you somehow managed to get acne in your colon, the answer is no, but colon health actually is important to your complexion.
- Promoters of colonic irrigation and colon cleansing make false claims that are disproved by millions of colon exams.
- Colon cleanses are usually formulated to keep you buying more, not to cleanse your colon.
- Regularity is good for your health, but the easiest way to avoid constipation is simply to eat less at each meal.
- Probiotic bacteria from yogurt (either milk or soy) with live cultures train your immune system to fight infection with less inflammation.
- Healthy bacteria in your colon will reduce blemishes on your skin—unless you flush the healthy bacteria away.
For over 50 years, alternative healers, primarily in Germany and the United States, have touted the benefits of colon cleansing. Before the invention of colonoscopy, the claim used to be made that tiny bits of food, or not so tiny bits of food, would escape digestion and implant themselves in the lining of the colon. More and more undigested food would build up until eventually a pot belly would appear, and “toxins” would accumulate, making other organs sick.
With the advent of colonoscopy in the 1980’s, that claim was disproved. In millions of colonoscopies, no one ever found undigested food from decades earlier. But neither had the practitioners of colonic irrigation ever found hardened, ancient, undigested food. That didn’t keep them from making the false claim.
After the public learned that the claims about undigested food were false2, the promoters of colon cleansers started talking about “toxins.” Slow-moving digestion, they claimed, allowed bacteria to ferment food and to create toxic byproducts that poisoned the rest of the body. Also, these toxins made you fat. Just take their colon cleanser every day and you will stay well.
How the Colon Cleanser Scam Works
You would think that if your colon were clogged, then cleaning it out would solve the problem. That is the last thing the makers of colon cleansers want to happen.
Most colon cleansers provide3 about 1 gram of fiber in however many capsules are used for a daily dose of the product. This is just enough to make a tiny difference in the texture of stools if you eat no fruit and vegetables at all (and you are not usually encouraged to eat fruits and vegetables). The cleansers also contain tiny amounts of senna, rhubarb root, aloe bitters, or chemical laxatives. But the idea is not for you to have a big bowel movement and say to yourself “OK, I’m well now.”
The idea is to give you cramps and gas so you think your colon must be getting better, and you keep buying the product month after month after month. The product you buy for about $29.99 a month costs the manufacturer about $0.20 for raw materials, and $1 for the bottle.
But Isn’t Regularity Important?
How fast food passes through your colon4 does have an impact on your health5. The faster food moves through your lower digestive tract, the fewer calories are absorbed. The faster food moves through your colon, the less your pancreas is stimulated to produce insulin6. The less insulin there is in your bloodstream, the less you fat you store around your waste.
The way to make sure food passes through your digestive tract quickly, however, is not to take a colon cleanser, bulking agent, or laxative. The way to make sure food passes through your digestive tract quickly is to eat less! And there are certain foods that help maintain both the health of your colon and clear up your complexion.
Probiotic bacteria8, especially strains of Lactobacillus acidophilous, fight off disease-causing bacteria and also train the immune system to fight infection with a minimum of infection. Their interaction with the immune system is very important for keeping a clear complexion.
Even when pores are free of excessive bacteria, inflammation can cause blemishes9. Minor inflammation is involved in the formation of whiteheads and blackheads. Greater inflammation is involved in the formation of pimples, nodules, and cysts. Acne bacteria do not cause this inflammation. The immune system does after it receives a hormonal “distress” signal from the skin, which may be generated even when bacteria are not present. This hormone, corticotrophin stimulating hormone, causes the release of interleukin-8 and histamine, which in turn inflame the skin. The immune system gets rid of bacteria by killing skin along with them.
When Lactobacillus acidophilous bacteria colonize the colon, the immune system attempts to get rid of them, too. When nerves in the lining of the colon fail to send the hormonal “distress signal,” however, the immune system does not release inflammatory chemicals. The interaction of the immune system with healthy bacteria in the colon trains the immune system not to overreact to acne bacteria in pores10. You’ll also feel better in general as your body generates fewer inflammatory chemicals in response to stress of all kinds. This is good for you, and it’s also good for the Lactobacillus in your colon.
What happens to these helpful bacteria if you do a colonic irrigation or if you were to take a colon cleanse product that actually worked (although there’s not a very high risk of that)? You would flush the helpful bacteria down into the sewer! For this reason, colonic irrigation and colon cleanses often make your complexion worse, and almost never make it better.
What to Do Instead of a Colon Cleanse
If you have constipation, try drinking more water. Then take a probiotic supplement11 or start eating tiny servings of yogurt (either milk or soy will work) that has live cultures. If the product has been pasteurized so that all the bacteria, including healthy bacteria, have been killed, it really won’t do you any good. It is usually best to eat yogurt with a meal, so less stomach acid has a chance to dissolve the probiotic bacteria taking a ride along with food into your colon. Don’t eat yogurt at the same meal you eat soup, because soup takes a long time to digest and fewer healthy bacteria will survive transit through your stomach.
What about yogurt face masks? Painting your face with yogurt that contains live cultures and allowing the mask to stay on your face for at least 30 minutes loosens dead skin that may be tightening pores. The lactic acid in yogurt does this. Half an hour is not long enough for probiotic bacteria on your skin to interact with your immune system on the face, however, so you will need to eat the bacteria for them to reduce inflammation.
- Acosta RD, Cash BD. Clinical effects of colonic cleansing for general health promotion: a systematic review. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 Nov;104(11):2830-6; quiz 2837.
- Horne S. Colon cleansing: a popular, but misunderstood natural therapy. J Herb Pharmacother. 2006;6(2):93-100.
- Acosta RD, Cash BD. Clinical effects of colonic cleansing for general health promotion: a systematic review. Am J Gastroenterol. November 2009;104(11):2830–2836.
- Heaton KW, Radvan J, Cripps H, Mountford RA, Braddon FE, Hughes AO. Defecation frequency and timing, and stool form in the general population: a prospective study. Gut. 1992 Jun;33(6):818-24.
- Müller M, Canfora EE, Blaak EE. Gastrointestinal Transit Time, Glucose Homeostasis and Metabolic Health: Modulation by Dietary Fibers. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 28;10(3):275.
- Piper MS, Saad RJ. Diabetes Mellitus and the Colon. Curr Treat Options Gastroenterol. 2017 Dec;15(4):460-474.
- Roudsari MR1, Karimi R, Sohrabvandi S, Mortazavian AM. Health effects of probiotics on the skin. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;55(9):1219-40.
- Maldonado Galdeano C, Cazorla S, I, Lemme Dumit J, M, Vélez E, Perdigón G: Beneficial Effects of Probiotic Consumption on the Immune System. Ann Nutr Metab 2019;74:115-124.
- Tanghetti EA. The role of inflammation in the pathology of acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013 Sep;6(9):27-35.
- Azad MAK, Sarker M, Wan D. Immunomodulatory Effects of Probiotics on Cytokine Profiles. Biomed Res Int. 2018 Oct 23;2018:8063647.
- Kechagia M, Basoulis D, Konstantopoulou S, Dimitriadi D, Gyftopoulou K, Skarmoutsou N, Fakiri EM. Health benefits of probiotics: a review. ISRN Nutr. 2013 Jan 2;2013:481651.
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