A colon cleanse is a supplemental routine or procedure that is intended to increase your body’s ability to excrete solid waste from your colon.
If your diet isn’t exactly what it should be, you might be afraid that you’re accumulating toxins or waste products in your gastrointestinal tract, and this is why people turn to colon cleanses.
Some people advocate a mechanical colon cleanse that involves irrigation with an enema kit, but these are fraught with risks.
A less harmful approach is to use a supplement with a mild laxative, dietary fiber, or herbal supplements associated with good colon health. Here are our rankings of the most effective colon cleansing supplements available.
1. Dr. Tobias Colon Cleanse
The colon cleanse regimen from Dr. Tobias is based around a combination of natural laxative power from senna leaf, oil-based salves for colon health (both aloe vera gel and medium chain triglycerides), and fiber to improve your stool production.
It’s also got probiotics to help repopulate your gut bacteria. Because it covers all the bases when it comes to colon health, it stands the best shot of safely and effectively cleaning your colon.
2. Kleen IQ Colon Detox & Cleanse
Kleen IQ makes a well-balanced colon cleanse supplement that includes senna leaf for laxative strength, medium chain triglyceride oil and aloe vera gel to soothe the lining of the colon, lactobacillus acidophilus probiotics, and both psyllium and flaxseed fiber. A well-rounded colon cleanser like this without any extraneous ingredients is always a solid choice.
3. Super Colon Cleanse
Super Colon Cleanse goes heavy on the herbal supplements, combining the laxative power of senna leaf with a wide array of herbal extracts, from celery seed to rose hips.
These herbal extracts are supposed to support a wide range of factors related to digestive health, but evidence for their efficacy is lacking. The fiber content is pretty good, though, and it’s got acidophilus probiotics too.
4. BioSchwartz Colon Detox & Cleanser
BioSchwartz’s 15 day program goes all in on herbal supplements. The inclusion of aloe vera gel is a nice touch, and like many other colon cleanses it uses senna as its laxative base, but the fact that the ingredients are hidden in a “proprietary blend” makes it tough to analyze in detail how effective it will be.
On the other hand, it does have two different kinds of probiotic bacteria, versus just one in most other competitors.
5. K Cleanse & Detox
K Cleanse & Detox takes an alternative approach to the colon cleanse. Its formulation is based around acai fruit, juniper berry, and dandelion extract as opposed to the typical herbal extracts seen in its competitors.
It still includes senna for laxative purposes, but it’s very different from the competition in most other regards. It might be worth a shot if other colon cleanses have failed you.
6. Sculpt n’ Cleanse
Sculpt n’ Cleanse, despite the name, doesn’t actually include much in the way of weight loss supplements; it’s mostly a laxative with some herbal ingredients for colon health.
Senna leaf provides the main laxative power, alongside buckthorn extract for additional laxative effects and a host of other herbal remedies. There is some aloe vera gel, but not much else in the way of oils, nor are there any probiotic ingredients.
7. Naturo Sciences Colon Care
Naturo Sciences’ Colon Care has some great ingredients, but it’s impossible to tell whether they’ll be effective, because the proprietary blend hides the amount of each ingredient in the blend. Yes, there is senna, flax, prune juice, and acidophilus probiotic bacteria, but is there enough to be efficacious?
8. NutraTech Ultra Cleanse
NutraTech has some quality ingredients, but unfortunately they’re all at the bottom of the list of their “proprietary blend” ingredients. Senna, prune juice, and flaxseed oil are all great, but they are among the least prevalent ingredients in the blend.
Plus, we don’t know the absolute amount of these ingredients. This calls the efficacy of this supplement into question, even though there aren’t any issues with the ingredients themselves.
9. Health Plus Prime Natural Detox Cleanse
Natural Detox Cleanse is mostly a laxative, and is fairly weak on the other parts of a colon cleanse. There isn’t much in the way of agents to soothe the gastrointestinal tract, and while it includes fructooligosaccarides as “prebiotics” to encourage your natural gut flora to grow and proliferate, there aren’t any actual probiotic bacteria in this supplement, nor is there any fiber.
10. Colon Clenz
Colon Clenz includes senna, buckthorn, and aloe vera, but the other ingredients are pretty forgettable obscure herbal extracts. The absolute amount of herbal extracts included is pretty small, too, so the likelihood that this will be effective is diminished because of this.
Part Two: Colon cleanse benefits and side effects
A colon cleanse, when done with a natural supplement, involves a dose of an herbal extract with laxative abilities, plus typically other ingredients to soothe the inside of the colon, increase the frequency and quantity of your bowel movements, and repopulate your gastrointestinal tract with healthy probiotic bacteria.
Broadly, the goal is to flush out your system, then renew it with healthy bacteria. Colon cleanses are popular among people with constipation, poor diets, or gastrointestinal problems.
Research on their efficacy is limited, but there may be benefits associated with the specific goals of a colon cleanse; namely, increasing your bowel movement frequency, flushing out your system with more fiber, and repopulating your gut with healthy bacteria.
The first benefit of a supplement based colon cleanse is simply that it is safer than mechanical colon cleanses. Several medical case reports caution against using mechanical colon cleanses, which involve enemas of herbal solutions to irrigate the colon.
A report by Dr. Ranit Mishouri and other medical doctors at the Georgetown University School of Medicine presented several cases of patients who had serious adverse health effects from mechanical colon cleansing (1).
In these cases, the injection of large volumes of herbal solutions into the colon via an enema bag upset the body’s natural balance and caused issues ranging from diarrhea to cramping and nausea.
Dr. Ruben Acosta and Dr. Brook Cash also caution against the use of mechanical colon cleansing in a 2009 review article in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. The benefits are minimal, and risks have been identified (2).
In contrast, using a supplement-based colon cleanse with natural remedies from herbal extracts may present a safer alternative. These don’t involve injecting large volumes of solution into the colon, and thus pose less of a health risk.
One key ingredient in a colon cleanse is a laxative. Ideally, this would come from an herbal or natural source, like senna leaf. Constipation is not just uncomfortable; it’s decidedly unhealthy.
A major epidemiological study published in 2003 examined constipation and laxative use in a large population in North Carolina (3).
In this study, “constipation” was defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week. Among people with constipation, there was a substantial increase in risk for colon cancer. Crucially, this risk dropped among the people who used laxatives to treat their constipation.
This lends credence to the theory that toxic waste products sitting around in your colon are actively harmful. This doesn’t necessarily mean they accumulate over time in healthy individuals, but it does mean that stuff your body wants to get out–solid waste in your colon–should not be sitting around for days at a time.
Other colon cleanse ingredients have the potential to soothe the lining of the inside of your colon. Aloe vera gel is one good example.
Research published in 2004 found that aloe vera gel acts as an anti-inflammatory in the kinds of cells that line the colon (4). Additionally, a review published in 1999 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology by T. Reynolds and A.C. Dweck even hypothesizes that the external healing properties of aloe vera gel (as used to treat sunburn, for example) may apply to internal use as well (5). If this is true, aloe vera gel may be able to not just soothe the colon, but heal it too.
Fiber content is also helpful in a colon cleanse, because it’s well-known that increased fiber content in your diet helps improve gastrointestinal health. According to Joanne Slavin at the University of Minnesota, fiber can also help probiotic bacteria grow and flourish (6).
This brings us to the final point where a colon cleanse can help your gastrointestinal health, which is the reintroduction of probiotic bacteria.
These are the “good bacteria” that help your body digest food and regulate the health of your gastrointestinal system. Probiotics are a front of active research, and we still don’t fully understand their potential, but one thing we do know is that supplementing with certain strains, like lactobacillus acidophilus, can treat gastrointestinal problems.
A review article published in the International Journal of Antimicrobacterial Agents described how probiotic supplements are known to treat gastrointestinal problems associated with contaminated water (traveler's diarrhea) and antibiotic treatments, which wipe out the good bacteria in your body (7).
The specific effects of a colon cleanse that include probiotics hasn’t been studied yet, but from what we know so far, it seems reasonable to assume that it would add a substantial benefit to your colon health.
The use of probiotics also makes sense in the context of the overall goal of a colon cleanse. You are trying to flush out your system and remove the “bad stuff” in your colon, but what are you going to replace it with? Probiotic bacteria can help repopulate your colon during a cleanse.
Using a colon cleanse, even an herbal supplement-based one, is not without its risks. The biggest one is that you’ll become reliant on the laxative effects for your bowel movements, and will get constipation as soon as you stop using your colon cleanse supplement.
The best way to fight this risk is to only use the colon cleanse for a short period of time, then cycle off it. A “cleanse,” after all, is supposed to be a relatively short and intensive intervention, not a regular habit that you do every day.
Another risk is an adverse gastrointestinal reaction to the herbal supplements included in a colon cleanse. A lot of supplements use obscure, untested herbal remedies that you may not react to well, especially if you already have a sensitive gastrointestinal tract.
Unfortunately, this is going to be a highly individual topic, so you’ll have to test the supplement you are using and see how you react to it. If you have had problems with this in the past, look for a supplement without lots of obscure herbal supplements and stick to something simple.
The primary dosing concern in colon cleansing is the quantity of the laxative ingredients. For senna-based colon cleanses, a typical dose is between 20 and 40 mg total per day (8).
Maximum dose should never exceed 69 mg per day. For other herbal ingredients, dosages are harder to establish because of a lack of research.
The good news is that the other beneficial ingredients in colon cleanse supplements, like aloe vera gel and fiber, aren’t harmful at high doses, so the laxative ingredient–plus any other herbal ingredients of unknown effect–are the only dosage related concerns for colon cleanse supplements.
Using a colon cleansing supplement can help improve your gastrointestinal health on several fronts. The laxative effect in colon cleansing supplements can treat constipation, helping to prevent toxins from sitting around in your colon and causing damage.
Soothing agents like aloe vera gel can fight inflammation and may even be able to stimulate healing in your colon tissue, and fibers from psyllium or flax can improve the frequency and quality of your bowel movements.
To repopulate the healthy gut bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, look for a colon cleanse that has probiotics, or take a separate probiotic supplement.