Many physicians are fielding questions from patients about detox or other scheme diets and colon cleanse products these days. Other patients are just listening to the hype and trying these fad diets, diet scams, and cleanse products (often to help lose weight) without consulting a medical professional.
Despite the marketing hype, many consumer publications do try to balance the equation, fighting the hype with factual articles discouraging unhealthy colon cleanses, but it is a hard battle. As a case in point, the Women’s Health article “WARNING: women’s health diet pills scam alert” was preceded by a takeover ad for a “miracle” diet that covered the web page and article completely until dismissed. In this particular article, the magazine defends its reputation against some diet plans accused of using its logo to promote their products, including the African Mango Diet Pill, the Raspberry Ketone Diet, and more. This ad and article combination really highlights the problem. It’s no wonder the public is confused.
Are Any Colon Cleanses Good for You?
It’s an unfortunate fact of modern life (and e-commerce especially) that marketing in many companies gets ahead of R&D. This is especially dangerous in the field of medicine, medical treatments, and medications, whether over the counter or prescription. Generally, colons do not require cleansing, though cleanses of certain sorts are worthwhile in advance of a colonoscopy or perhaps to treat chronic constipation, while investigating the root cause of the ailment. There are other health-related exceptions, but these also should be done while under the care of a medical professional. Colon cleanse procedures can actually cause medical problems, such as:
- Severe dehydration
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Bowel perforations
- Renal failure
- Heart failure
- …And they’re not even effective in helping you lose weight.
Instead of resorting to a body cleanse for weight loss, health care professionals advise patients to eat a diet consisting of fiber and plenty of water, plus daily exercise and regular checkups.
How Can the Medical Community Fight Back Against Detox Scams?
Many individual physicians, on their own, do try to get the word out about colon cleanse scams and other dietary “mistakes” that people can fall into; for instance, there is this piece on the consumer-focused EveryDayHealth.com. Many also present factual information on forums, dedicated websites, and personal blogs, including this Quackwatch.org post: debunking the Aqua Detox. Still, it’s hard to match the effectiveness of advertising budgets for some dubious cleanse products. In some cases, flagrantly fictional advertising for certain supplements eventually receives punishment by the FDA or through user lawsuits, but it doesn’t happen often enough to discourage scammers from trying again with different (or just differently named) products or detox diet plans.
Recently, Congress went so far as to confront Dr. Oz for making outsized claims about specific supplements (not necessarily brands) on his TV show, in this case, green coffee bean extract for weight loss. He responded in part that his name is being used for certain brands/products without permission and he supports testing.
In an attempt to set the record straight about trendy colon cleanses, media outlets NBC’s Alternative Medicine, CNN, and the Huffington Post covered studies showing that the cleanses do nothing to improve health, and may actually cause harmful side effects. The studies looked at colon-cleansing beverages, colon hydrotherapy, and other dubious, but trendy colon treatments. Of course, there is always an agenda to consider. In this case, it is the fact that debunking-type headlines attract at least as much attention, readership, and ad dollars for the news organizations as positive-hype headlines. Still, the agendas of consumer publications and journalists may be a bit more benevolent than those from companies trying to sell bogus cleanse products. At least the press provides some balance in the public arena to help counter the hype of those promoting colon cleanse fantasy.
Do your patients often ask you about the health benefits of body cleanse diets or products? Should the NIH and/or AMA issue cautionary statements to the public on a regular basis? Or should the public rely on the press? Would either tactic really help?
Barrett S. The Aqua Detox scam. Device Watch website. Revised December 28, 2004. http://www.devicewatch.org/reports/aquadetox.shtml.
Chan A. Colon cleansing does more harm than good: study. Huffington Post website. Updated October 1, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/01/colon-cleansing-harms_n_915098.html.
Firger J. Dr. Oz defends weight-loss advice at Senate hearing on diet scams. CBS News website. June 17, 2014. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dr-oz-defends-weight-loss-advice-at-senate-hearing-on-diet-scams/.
Katz DL. Do I really need to cleanse my colon? Oprah website. March 2009. http://www.oprah.com/health/The-Truth-About-Colon-Cleansing.
Raymond J. Detox danger: trendy colon cleansing a risky ritual. NBC News website. Updated August 1, 2011. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/43948036/ns/health-alternative_medicine/#.VACEmDKwJrV.
Warning: Women’s health diet pills scam alert. Women’s Health website. February 26, 2013. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/african-mango-diet-pills-womens-health.
- Barrett S. The Aqua Detox scam. Device Watch website. Revised December 28, 2004. http://www.devicewatch.org/reports/aquadetox.shtml.
- Chan A. Colon cleansing does more harm than good: study. Huffington Post website. Updated October 1, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/01/colon-cleansing-harms_n_915098.html.
- Firger J. Dr. Oz defends weight-loss advice at Senate hearing on diet scams. CBS News website. June 17, 2014. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dr-oz-defends-weight-loss-advice-at-senate-hearing-on-diet-scams/.
- Katz DL. Do I really need to cleanse my colon? Oprah website. March 2009. http://www.oprah.com/health/The-Truth-About-Colon-Cleansing.
- Raymond J. Detox danger: trendy colon cleansing a risky ritual. NBC News website. Updated August 1, 2011. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/43948036/ns/health-alternative_medicine/#.VACEmDKwJrV.
- Warning: Women’s health diet pills scam alert. Women’s Health website. February 26, 2013. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/african-mango-diet-pills-womens-health.