Colonics --- Pros and Cons
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Colonics--- Pros and Cons

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February 20, 2015
By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

From "colonics" to "colon cleansing", colonic irrigation to the more pleasantly named "colonic hydrotherapy".. the list of terms for washing out intestinal waste via the back passage goes on and on. Colon cleansing has been around for centuries ever since the popular belief took hold that waste in the intestines could poison the body.

Colonics have seen a recent surge in popularity with fans including celebrities like the late Princess Diana, Usher and Courtney Love reporting that colonics remove waste and detoxify the body. Many people say that, just as you regularly wash your hair and cut your nails, you need to regularly clean your colon. Are they right? Or are colonics dangerous treatments that bring no benefit?

What is a Colonic?

Colonics are performed by therapists. They are not intended, legally at least, to be used by do-it-yourselfers at home. During a colonic you lie on a table and water is pumped into the rectum using a tube. Herbs or other compounds may be added to the water. Waste materials are removed through another tube. Colonics are different from enemas because a larger amount of water is used.

How Popular are Colonics?

According to a 2004 study from the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, UK around 5,600 procedures are estimated to be carried out each month in the UK by members of the Association of Colonic Hydrotherapists.

Colonic irrigation is also big business in the US, with a wide variety of colon cleanse devices and supplements sold via websites and pharmacies. The popularity of colonics may be due to the intense marketing efforts on behalf of colon cleanse suppliers - and the amount of money they can get from offering the procedure or supplement.

We looked at the scientific evidence to find out the benefits and dangers of colonics for your health.



















1. Are Colonics Approved by the FDA?

Preparations for colon cleanses are classed as "dietary supplements" and they must be labeled as such, according to the US Food and Drug Administration rules. The FDA does not pre-approve these supplements.

The devices for carrying out colonics must meet certain requirements. These devices are only approved for medical use, for example preparation for endoscopic procedures, and not for non-medical uses like colon cleansing.

The FDA has issued many warning letters to companies that advertise devices for the unapproved purpose of colon cleansing.

Practitioners do not need to be licensed in order to carry out colonic procedures, although many therapists belong to organizations in the US like the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy (NBCH) and the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy (I-ACT).

2. Colonics Improve Colon and Immune System Function?

On the positive side, a 2009 study from the Yoko Clinic, Yahatahigashi-ku, Kitakyushu, Japan suggests that lymphocytes can migrate from the gut into the blood after a colonic, which could improve colon and immune system function.

Many proponents of colonic irrigation point to articles like this to provide evidence for the health benefits of regular colonics.

3. Colonics are Useful Treatment for Defecation Disorders

According to a 2008 study from University Hospital Maastricht, The Netherlands colonic irrigation is a treatment for defecation disorders when other treatment or surgery has failed.

Patients experiencing fecal incontinence, constipation or both were treated with colonic irrigation and their overall quality of life improved, according to the survey.

4. Side Effects of Colonics

However, a variety of side effects have been reported associated with colonics. A colonic can result in cramping, bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and feelings of fullness according to studies such as a 2006 report from the Meridian Institute, Virginia Beach.

5. More Severe Side Effects of Colonics

Side effects may also be more severe. A 2005 study from Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK reports extensive abscesses following colonic hydrotherapy.

A 1999 study from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore demonstrates the case of life-threatening perineal gangrene from rectal perforation following colonic hydrotherapy. A 2007 study from Hotel Dieu Hospital, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada found the change in renal function brought about by a colonic procedure.

Further serious side effects include electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, rectal perforations, acute water intoxication, and septicemia. Rectal perforations and septicemia can result in death.

6. Colonics and Auto-intoxication: The Truth 

In ancient times, colon cleansing was carried out because the belief existed that intestinal waste would build up and poison the body.

This process, called "auto-intoxication" could be combated using colonics and the practice became popular in the early 1900s.

Auto-intoxication was widely discredited in the following years, with practitioners such as E Ernst in 1997 stating that "when it became clear that the scientific rationale was wrong and colonic irrigation was not merely useless but potentially dangerous, it was exposed as quackery and subsequently went into a decline".

Despite a recent rise in popularity, the scientific literature does not support the benefits of colonics as a treatment for auto-intoxication.

A 2009 study from the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland stated that "there are no methodologically rigorous controlled trials of colonic cleansing to support the practice for general health promotion.

Conversely, there are multiple case reports and case series that describe the adverse effects of colonic cleansing. As the 2009 report added, "The practice of colonic cleansing to improve or promote general health is not supported in the published literature and cannot be recommended at this time." A note in the Natural Standard Professional Database in 2011 also added that there is "limited clinical evidence validating colon therapy as a health promotion practice" and a "lack of sufficient evidence" for most of its prescribed uses.

7. Bottom line on Colonic Irrigation --- You Just Don't Need It

Experts do not recommend colonics for detoxification purposes for one simple reason --- they don't work.

Your digestive system is a natural cleanser and detoxifier.  You don't need a colon cleanse to rid your bowel of waste.

While proponents of the practice claim that de-toxifying the body with a colonic boosts your energy and enhances your immune system, there is no evidence that this is the case.

A more effective colon cleanse? Eat a healthy diet full of fiber and drink plenty of water. Keep your body moving as physical activity increases the blood flow in the body, which results in a more effective colon.


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