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Common Questions About Intestinal Cleansing

Intestinal cleansing is an operation frequently performed in view of diagnostic endoscopic examinations or surgical interventions and / or in the presence of disorders of the enteric tract (constipation). Intestinal cleansing can be done in different ways and through the use of different products; the choice of using one cleansing method rather than another depends essentially on why this operation is needed.

In some cases, intestinal cleansing can be done in the home environment, while in other situations it is necessary to contact specialized medical personnel. However, it is good to specify that – regardless of the type of cleansing of the intestine to which you want to submit – it would be good to always ask the opinion of your doctor, in order to exclude the presence of contraindications or potential risks for the patient.

What is intestinal cleansing and what does it implicate?

Intestinal cleansing can be considered as a sort of washing of the enteric tract – or part of it (for example, the colon) – carried out in order to free it, in a more or less deep, from residues and waste materials accumulated in it.

Normally, the intestine is able to eliminate the aforementioned waste material independently. However, in the presence of particular conditions, such as constipation, or in anticipation of the execution of diagnostic tests of an endoscopic type or of surgical operations, it may be necessary to intervene to facilitate the emptying of the contents of the intestine.

Intestinal cleansing, therefore, is performed through the use of substances or drugs that – taken by mouth or administered rectally – are able to stimulate intestinal peristalsis and / or are able to remove waste material from the enteric walls, thus favoring its elimination. Currently, intestinal cleansing is carried out mainly through the use of laxative drugs, through the execution of enemas, or through hydrocolon therapy.

When is intestinal cleansing indicated?

From a medical point of view, intestinal cleansing should only be performed in certain situations, such as:

  • In the case of constipation, especially when it manifests itself in an obstinate form and creates considerable discomfort and discomfort to the patient;
  • When the patient has to undergo an endoscopic diagnostic test, such as colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or pancolonscopy;
  • In preparation for surgical interventions to be performed at the level of the enteric tract, for which it is necessary to free it completely from feces and waste material residues.

Some alternative medicines, on the other hand, believe that regular intestinal cleansing can be useful to detoxify the intestine, freeing it from the waste and toxins accumulated in it due to unregulated lifestyles and unbalanced diet. These wastes and toxins, in fact, would lead to the appearance of inflammatory phenomena and would promote the onset of various disorders and discomforts in the patient, even if not closely related to the digestive tract, such as, for example, the decrease of immune defenses and the greater susceptibility to contraction of infections. For intestinal cleansing aimed at detoxification of the enteric tract, alternative medicines prefer the use of herbs and natural remedies, or techniques such as hydrocolon therapy (a method that, among other things, is also used by conventional medicine).

However, at the moment, the available scientific evidence about the potential damages caused by waste and toxins in the enteric tract and about the presumed benefits deriving from intestinal cleansing for detoxifying purposes are not sufficient to confirm such hypotheses. Therefore – before undergoing any type of intestinal cleansing – it is good to discuss it in advance with your doctor. Canadian Health&Care Mall warns you that a poorly executed bowel cleansing, or performed without necessity, could give rise to unpleasant side effects. In any case, the following will briefly describe the main products and methods used to perform intestinal cleansing only in the context of conventional medicine.

Laxative drugs to perform intestinal cleansing

Laxative drugs are widely used to speed up and facilitate the emptying of the enteric tract from the feces, so they can be used to carry out intestinal cleansing in case there is a need.

There are different types of laxatives that can be classified according to the mechanism of action through which they promote intestinal emptying. In this regard, it is therefore possible to distinguish:

  1. Osmotic laxatives: these are laxatives that – once in the enteric tract – are able to recall and retain large quantities of water, making the intestinal contents softer and thus facilitating their expulsion. Typical examples of osmotic laxatives are lactulose, mannitol and magnesium salts (such as, for example, English salt).
  2. Mass-forming laxatives: they are laxatives that must be taken with adequate amounts of water and that – once they reach the intestinal lumen – swell and increase their volume and stool volume; all this stimulates the intestinal peristalsis, favoring consequently the expulsion of the enteric content. Examples of this type of laxatives are the integuments of plant seeds such as psyllium and ispagula.
  3. Emollient laxatives: these are laxatives capable of favoring the emptying of the intestine through the lubrication of the feces. They can be taken orally or given directly to the rectum. A typical example of this type of laxatives is given by glycerine.
  4. Irritant laxatives: they are laxatives able to exert a rather drastic action and for this reason their use is generally limited to occasional constipation states. Laxatives of this type increase intestinal motility, favoring the passage, therefore the elimination, of faeces. Examples of irritating laxatives are sodium picosulfate, the so-called anthraquinone glycosides (contained in plants such as senna and aloe) and bisacodyl.

Most of the aforementioned laxatives can be freely purchased in pharmacies or parapharmacies, without having to submit a prescription. However, this does not mean that they are free of side effects and contraindications. On the contrary, each type of laxative is able to give rise to undesirable effects of different types and the use of such products to carry out intestinal cleansing is generally contraindicated in the presence of certain intestinal diseases. Many of them are contraindicated even during pregnancy and lactation.

Intestinal cleansing using laxative enema

The laxative enema used to perform intestinal cleansing involves the local insertion – in the rectal and in the colon – of liquid solutions able to favor the emptying of this enteric tract. These solutions are generally made up of lukewarm water in which active ingredients with a laxative action are dissolved, such as, for example, glycerin or sorbitol (in the pharmacy there are medicines ready to be used to make enemas based on these active ingredients).

The enema can be performed both in the home and in the hospital, however, in any case, it must be used only if prescribed by the doctor. In fact, similarly to what has been said for laxatives, even the use of the enema to perform an intestinal cleansing can give rise to side effects of various types (such as irritation of the enteric mucosa) and is contraindicated in the presence of intestinal diseases of different nature (inflammatory, neoplastic, etc.), in the presence of bleeding, in patients with renal failure and / or heart disease.

What is hydrocolontherapy?

Hydrocolon therapy is a particular method that exploits the action of water with certain characteristics to perform an intestinal cleansing – or better, a wash – starting from the rectal ampoule and reaching the cecum.

The water used to make this bowel wash must be strictly free of microorganisms, purified and properly filtered. Furthermore, in order to avoid discomfort and complications, it must be inserted into the enteric tract at controlled temperature and pressure. Precisely for this reason, hydrocolon therapy is carried out through the use of specific machinery and only and exclusively by specialized health personnel.

In detail, the instrument is equipped with a two-way cannula that must be inserted gently into the anus: a pathway allows the water to escape, which will wash the intestine by removing the waste materials present in the lumen; through the other way this same water will be sucked together with the waste residues removed.

The hydrocolon therapy technique is used both by alternative medicine and conventional medicine. In the latter case, intestinal cleansing performed with this method can be considered as an alternative to classical intestinal cleansing with laxatives or with enemas in preparation for endoscopic diagnostic examinations or surgical interventions. Also in this case, it is a method that can give rise to various side effects and is contraindicated in many situations, therefore, should be performed only if indicated by the doctor.

Importance of diet in intestinal cleansing

In order for the intestinal cleansing to be carried out correctly – regardless of the method to which it is decided to resort – stress that the diet plays an extremely important role. In detail, nutrition plays a fundamental role especially when bowel cleansing is done in preparation for endoscopic examinations or surgery. For the success of the examination and to facilitate any operations, in fact, the intestine must be completely clean and free of residues of any kind. The presence of waste material in the enteric tract, in fact, could jeopardize the outcome of the examination that will then have to be postponed, as well as it may hinder the execution of the surgical maneuvers during a possible intervention.

For all the aforementioned reasons, in the days preceding endoscopic examinations or surgical interventions affecting the enteric tract, the patient is required to follow the instructions given by the doctor concerning the diet. Although every examination or intervention requires specific preparation, in general, it is necessary to avoid the intake of poorly digestible foods and foods rich in fiber, such as whole foods, vegetables and fruit. In addition, the day before the examination or surgery, you should take only fluids and you should do the intestinal cleansing prescribed by the doctor, as appropriate, at home, or at the hospital or clinic.