Gut Cleanse: Is it Unscientific?

Gut Cleanse: Is it Unscientific?


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Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to gut health.

Many brands online sell food products and supplements to “cleanse” the gut. These brands claim that by cleansing the gut, one can experience improved digestive health and remove toxins from the body.

 

But is the concept of “gut cleansing” backed by good science or are these just marketing claims to push products? Can you really remove toxins from the body by performing a gut cleanse? What even constitutes a gut cleanse? And how do real people who tried gut cleansing describe its effects?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we review medical studies on gut cleansing to give our take on whether the practice is unscientific and a waste of time and money. We’ll analyze the ingredients in a popular gut cleansing supplement to further our point.

We’ll also share a real, unsponsored gut cleanse user review along with a TEDTalk on the topic of cleansing.

Why Gut Cleansing is Unscientific

Gut cleansing, which is separate from colon cleansing, involves trying to “cleanse” the intestines and remove toxins. This process is not clinically defined, and we haven’t come across any medical research suggesting that gut cleansing improves overall health.

Further, we can’t even find any clinical trials proving gut cleansing to be effective for the treatment of gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The digestive system already naturally “cleanses” the body by processing food into nutrients and waste. We recommend that consumers avoid any supplements or health products where the manufacturer is claiming that their product specifically cleanses the gut. It’s a sign of a low-quality brand and an unscientific product.

The concept of there being “toxins” in the gut is also unscientific. While Americans are unfortunately exposed to many industrial chemicals due to environmental pollution, we haven’t come across any evidence that toxins are harbored in the gut.

Toxins like heavy metals are typically found in blood and bone.

Here’s what all of this information means for consumers trying to improve their health:

There are many ways to naturally support gut health, including lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and nutritional supplements. However, supporting the gut’s optimal state of health is different from trying to “cleanse” the gut. The former is backed by good science (which we’ll discuss later in this article) and the latter is unscientific.

But before we get into the research on how to support gut health, we want to feature a video on a real person who tried cleansing their gut in the next section.

Real, Unsponsored Gut Cleanse User Review

A YouTube creator named Keltie O’Connor tried 10 different “gut cleanse” hacks in a video with over 100,000 views:

How To Naturally Support Gut Health

There are a number of research-backed lifestyle changes one can make to support gut health.

Exercise can actually improve the bacterial balance in the gut.

medical review published in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity journal states that “exercise is able to enrich the microflora diversity,” which means it can favorably shift the ratio of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut.

Walking after eating is shown to reduce bloating in a 2021 clinical trial, which makes sense intuitively because walking stimulates blood flow and we have evolved to walk much more than modern humans do.

Diet is the single most important factor for enhancing gut health and helping support the body’s natural “cleansing” processes.

A 2020 medical review explains how eating a diet composed of whole foods with minimal processing supports a healthy gut microbiome. Fruits and vegetables specifically “confer health benefits to the host” due to their nutrition and anti-inflammatory effects.

Another medical review published in the Nutrients journal documents how good dietary practices along with food supplements can improve metabolic health and even brain function, since “gut microbes affect host brain function.”

Stress-relieving practices are also clinically shown to support gut health.

A 2017 medical review found that daily meditation practice can directly improve the gut barrier function, which reduces the risk of food sensitivities due to food proteins leaking into the bloodstream.

According to Harvard Health, a “leaky gut,” or increased intestinal permeability, can have gaps that allow food to penetrate the tissues beneath it and trigger inflammation in the body.

This suggests that regular stress-relieving lifestyle practices like meditation (check out our article on how to meditate if interested), nature walks, deep breathing or socializing can help to heal the gut and restore proper gut function.

Gut Cleanse Supplement Analysis

ZuPOO ingredients

The ingredients above are from a popular gut cleansing supplement called ZuPOO.

As we documented in our ZuPOO review article, two of the active ingredients in this formulation (cascara sagrada bark extract and senna leaf powder) are laxatives.

This means that this supplement makes users urgently need to use the bathroom, which likely leads them to believe they’re “cleansing” their gut or colon when really they’re just irritating their digestive system to no benefit.

There are no active ingredients in this supplement that we consider likely to improve gut health in humans based on a review of clinical studies, nor does the manufacturer cite any on their product page.

This is a good example in our opinion of why avoiding “gut cleansing” supplements may be a logical decision.

TEDTalk on “Cleansing” Protocols

A popular talk from the TED channel has over 3 million views and discusses why most “cleansing” protocols (like gut cleansing) are unscientific:

Our Clean Gut Health Picks

MBG Organic Fiber Potency+ is our top fiber pick because it's certified organic, provides 7 g of fiber per serving and costs under $1.85 per serving at the time of updating this article.

MBG Organic Fiber Potency+ contains 100% soluble fiber, which was described as "one of the most important nutrients for the gut microbiota" in a clinical review published in the Molecules journal.

Bulletproof Express 3-in-1 Probiotic is our top value probiotic supplement, because it costs only $1.20 per serving at the time of updating this article.

Probiotics "can improve in the immune, gastrointestinal...health systems in healthy adults" according to a 2019 medical review.

VSL#3 is our top premium probiotic pick, because this probiotic supplement has been studied in 25 clinical trials, and a 2020 meta-study on VSL#3 concluded the following:

"...many studies demonstrated that VSL#3 has a beneficial effect on obesity and diabetes, allergic diseases, nervous systemic diseases, AS, bone diseases, and female reproductive systemic diseases."

All of the products recommended in this section are entirely free of ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

We do not recommend engaging in gut cleanses because we haven’t come across any clinical evidence of their efficacy. In fact, we consider marketing claims of “gut cleansing” to be a red flag for consumers to watch out for. In our opinion, it signals a low-quality brand with lacking scientific backing.

There are ways to naturally support gut health, including exercise, an improved diet with whole foods and a reduction in processed foods, and stress-relieving practices like meditation.

There also exist food supplements with significant clinical backing for their gut health benefits.

In this article we analyzed the ingredients in a popular gut cleansing supplement and found that it contained two potent laxatives, which is likely what causes the effects that users falsely ascribe to gut healing.