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Colonic Irrigation

The application of water via the anus to flush out the colon is called colonic irrigation.


Before the advent of antibiotics and other modern medicines, 'cleansing' the bowels was a popular therapy for everything from infections to heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and depression. Today, mainstream medicine rejects not only the therapy but even the rationale for its use. Opponents deny its ability to cure any sort of ailment, and warn that careless administration of the treatments can spread disease and cause serious—even life-threatening—problems. Modern advocates of this extremely passé procedure say it is an important way of maintaining general health and preventing illness. There are, however, no scientific studies to support this contention, and virtually all medical experts continue to dismiss the therapy as worthless.

Procedure of Treatment

The goal of this procedure is to flush out 'built-up' toxins from the bowel. The treatments are usually given in a special clinic or a spa. Before the procedure begins, you need to change into a hospital-style gown with an opening in the back and may be asked to take an enema. During the session, you will lie on a treatment table while the therapist gently inserts a small rigid tube called a speculum, about 5½ inches into your rectum. He or she will then attach the speculum to a plastic hose connected to a colon irrigation machine. This device will slowly fill the five-foot length of your colon with warm, purified water. Herbs or enzymes are sometimes added to the water in hopes of increasing the benefits of the treatment. The water causes that muscles that line the colon to contract and expand rhythmically, forcing out the faecal matter (undigested food, water and bacteria), gas and mucus through an evacuation tube that leads back to the machine. While the water is in the bowel, the therapist may massage portions of your abdomen to help loosen and remove as much faecal material as possible from the pockets and folds that line the walls of the colon. Some therapists also find reflexology and special breathing and relaxation techniques useful for ridding the colon of waste. After the first infusion of water has been expelled, the procedure will be repeated until a total of 20 to 30 gallons of water have been flushed through the bowel. Although you should not have any pain, you may feel a sensation of warmth as the cleansing proceeds. The cause, say some practitioners, is the presence of toxins in the faecal matter leaving the body. In preparation for the treatment, you will be told to eat light meals on the day before the therapy. Many practitioners suggest that you stick to small portions of fruits and vegetables for breakfast and lunch and take even less for supper. On the day of the procedure, eating will probably be forbidden until the treatment is over. Some colon therapists suggest that you take a 'cleansing' drink, such as psyllium powder and bentonite, and use a mild laxative the night before treatment, while others say no special preparation is necessary. After the session, practitioners typically advise eating easy-to-digest, nourishing foods such as vegetable soups and broths, fruit and vegetable juices, or peppermint tea. To help restore the bacterial balance in your colon, the therapist may insert acidophilus in your rectum or instruct you to drink a product containing acidophilus for the following two weeks.

Treatment Time: Each session lasts between 30 and 50 minutes.
Treatment Frequency: While some practitioners advise one or two sessions, and others recommend four to eight, a few insist that to maintain a well-functioning colon, you need treatments every three to six months.


Like many of the alternative medical practices currently enjoying a renaissance, colon therapy has its roots in Egypt, Greece and India, where enemas have been used for many centuries to cleanse the body of disease. In early times the procedure was performed in rivers, using a hollow reed. By the 1890s, it had reached the New World. Thousands of Americans flocked to spas that promised radiant health and rejuvenation through 'high colonic' enemas. Perhaps the most famous early therapist was John Harvey Kellogg, who later founded the cereal company that still bears his name. In his sprawling Battle Creek, Michigan, sanitarium, he treated 40,000 patients with gastrointestinal disease. All but two of them, according to his accounts, avoided surgery through his ministrations. The 'high colonic' craze reached its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Machines for flushing out the colon appeared in hundreds of physicians' offices and hospitals, and thousands of Americans seemed fixated on bowel movements. Then, as more effective treatments were discovered, colonic irrigation slowly vanished from the conventional medical scene. Contemporary advocates still insist that 'high colonics' can cure ailments ranging from asthma to cancer. They regard the colon as a fertile breeding ground for damaging toxins and insist that regular cleansing is necessary to maintain good health. The colon, a tube-shaped organ also called the large bowel, processes undigested food passed on to it from the small intestine, absorbing water into the system and slowly propelling the solid remnant to the rectum, where it is eliminated from the body. The movement of the broken down food is accomplished by peristalsis, the rhythmic contraction of the muscles lining the walls of the colon. Proponents of colonic irrigation contend that thick gluey faecal matter—mostly undigested cellulose, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and, perhaps, parasites—can accumulate in the pockets and folds that line the walls of the colon and become backed-up along the passageways of the colon. As more and more faeces pack the bowel, elimination becomes increasingly difficult. This, they say, is where all the trouble begins. They believe that, as the faecal matter builds up and stagnates, it begins to produce toxic substances. This condition not only can affect the normal function of the colon, but, because the toxic matter is absorbed into the bloodstream, can also have a negative impact on the liver, lymphatic system, lungs, kidneys, thyroid and other vital organs. The body, they theorize, regards toxic molecules of undigested foods as foreign bodies and produces antibodies to fight them. In the process, the antibodies can also destroy healthy tissue. The villain, according to the proponents of this treatment, is the modern diet: high in fats and sugar, low in fibre. Also to blame, they say, is the tendency to defecate infrequently. They strongly advocate having at least one movement every meal eaten and heading to the bathroom immediately upon feeling 'the urge'. Irrigation becomes necessary, according to this theory, whenever a build-up interferes with normal elimination. The cleansing treatments, they say, rid the colon of the potentially poisonous encrusted stool. Normal peristalsis is restored, bowel movements become regular, the blood is cleansed of toxins, the immune system returns to normal, and the body becomes healthy.

Mainstream medical practitioners question virtually every aspect of this theory. They point out that both Americans and Europeans are needlessly obsessed with constipation, and there is absolutely no scientific proof that people need to defecate frequently. They argue that accumulation of faecal matter is actually rather a rare event, and that a high-fibre diet with liberal fluid intake is sufficient to remedy the problem when it occurs. Furthermore, they point out that there is no evidence that the modern diet produces any toxins in the bowel, or that accumulated faecal matter turns poisonous. In fact, the toxins postulated by colon therapists have never been identified and have never been found in any organ or in the bloodstream. Colonic irrigation, they observe, is not even the most effective remedy for intestinal parasites, which can be more reliably eliminated by standard drug treatments. To all these objections, they add that the treatments pose the risk of a chemical imbalance in the body, a perforated bowel or an infection. Worse yet, if the treatments take the place of effective therapy, disorders that could be cured may go unchecked, causing needless pain and risk.

Who Should Avoid This Therapy?

Because these treatments do pose certain risks, check with your doctor before proceeding. Avoid this therapy completely if you have Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, haemorrhoids, tumors of the large intestine or rectum or ulcerative colitis.


Therapists often use laxatives and enemas as part of the treatment, and critics warn that overuse of these products can damage your colon. They also feel the vast quantity of water used can stretch the bowel to such an extent that it can no longer function properly. Other possible side-effects may include general weakness and deficiencies or imbalances of enzymes that work on fat, fat-soluble vitamins and calcium. The most dangerous potential side-effect is inadvertent perforation of the colon by a nozzle.