If you look on the internet, you will find that colon cleansing tea is being marketed as a long term constipation remedy, something that really flushes your system deeply and gets rid of accumulated wastes.
As a clinical herbalist and naturopath, I believe this is a very short-sighted approach. Colon cleansing should instead become “body cleansing”, addressing not just the colon but also other elimination organs.
In this article, we will first debunk the colon cleansing tea commercial phenomenon, look into what’s in that little tea bag, and conclude that hidden behind fancy names are fairly harsh plant laxatives.
Second, we will introduce the concept of full “body cleansing”, something that addresses all elimination organs.
I will not address the subject of colon cleansing in this article. Colon cleansing is a broad subject that needs to include enemas, colonics and other methods.
It needs to be carefully laid out as its own subject, clearly outlining the pros and cons, the long term benefits versus marketing hype and potential risks. I will cover colon cleansing in a separate article soon.
My purpose in this article is simple: to help you understand that a commercial colon cleansing tea is nothing but a hidden laxative, and has no business being marketed as long-term detoxification and cleansing solution.
I have spent some time researching the different brands and types of colon cleansing teas. Most of them contain the following herbal ingredient:
Several of them also contain at least one of the following herbal ingredients:
The rest of the ingredients are anti-inflammatory and soothing plants which may bring relief to an inflamed gut. But they do not hide the fact that the main ingredients are laxatives.
Let us take an example, the "Health Plus Colon Cleanse, Green Tea To Go" product. Here is what you can find in one tea bag:
|Green Tea||950 mg|
|Fennel Seed||130 mg|
|Vanilla Beans||120 mg|
Other products marketed under the “colon cleansing tea” label contain similar ingredients.
Senna can be particularly laxative. It acts in two ways: first it is a stimulant laxative, stimulating intestinal motility. Second it affects transfer of water and electrolytes from the intestinal walls into the stools. In other words it forces more liquid to be released into the feces.
Senna is known to induce powerful purgative and laxative effects(1), with diarrhea and abdominal cramps as a side effect(2). Not a gentle herb product that can be used in the long run.
Cascara sagrada is another stimulant laxative, containing similar ingredients than senna (in the anthroquinones family), albeit a bit less harsh in its laxative effect. The same can be said for buckthorn
The rest are very useful plants, and have their role to play. Licorice to heal ulcerations of the stomach or intestine, fennel seeds to reduce the amount of gas and bloating, ginger as a warming herb to bring back circulation to a deficient gut, etc. But they do not play a role in an overall body cleanse.
I have absolutely nothing against this type of tea. Sometimes, a laxative is needed, for short term use, because we are really stuck and backed-up.
But it should be marketed under the appropriate label, and do not use the “colon cleansing tea” label, something that might convey the fact that it is safe for repeated use in order to keep the body clean.
Our elders set aside specific times of the year for body cleansing. They sensed the fact that with the change of seasons, the body needed to get rid of waste product in order to start the new season.
Today, due to stress, pollution, an over-consumption of drugs, and malnutrition, we need this body cleansing more than ever.
Most of the people I see in my naturopathic clinic benefit from a herbal cleansing protocol, whether they are constipated or not. If you have had gastrointestinal problems for a while, you will benefit too.
For more information on a good herbal body cleanse, see the following page.
I have nothing against the use of laxatives. Tea mixes containing senna, cascara sagrada, buckthorn and the like have their use.
But this is an occasional, last resort use, when the basic approaches (nutrition, more gentle herbs, etc) are not working for some reason. Or when we are traveling and our anti-constipation routine has been disrupted.
These herbs do not belong to cleansing tea formulas. The concept of cleansing carries a special meaning that has been recognized throughout the ages. Cleansing should be gently stimulating rather than purgative. Focusing only on the colon is short sighted.
Stimulating all elimination organs (liver, gallbladder, kidneys, skin, lungs) is what is needed to help restore digestive functions. I have introduced body cleansing in the last part of this article, which is described in detail in the following page.
(1) Kakino M, Tazawa S, Maruyama H, Tsuruma K, Araki Y, Shimazawa M, Hara H. "Laxative effects of agarwood on low-fiber diet-induced constipation in rats". BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Nov 15;10:68.
(2) Picard C, Fioramonti J, Francois A, Robinson T, Neant F, Matuchansky C. "Review article: bifidobacteria as probiotic agents -- physiological effects and clinical benefits". Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2005 Sep 15;22(6):495-512. Review.
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