What is Colon Cleansing?


Colon cleansing, also known as colonic irrigation or hydrotherapy, is a procedure that involves the introduction of large volumes of water, sometimes mixed with herbs or other liquids, into the colon via the rectum. This practice has historical roots but lacks substantial scientific evidence to support its purported benefits for detoxification or gut health.

The medical community generally does not endorse colon cleansing for wellness or detoxification purposes, emphasizing instead the body’s natural detoxification systems. It is primarily recommended in a clinical setting to prepare the gut for surgical or diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopiesIntroduction to Colon Cleansing

In the modern era, access to health-related issues has become easier than it was in the past. More and more people now believe and demand the scientific basis of things. Though lacking in scientific evidence and apparently benefiting health, traditional and homemade remedies are still being practiced by many people. One of these evolved approaches to preventing digestive system diseases is colon cleansing.

Colon cleansing or colonic irrigation has its roots in ancient Greek times. In the United States, it was introduced in the 1900s. Still, scientific theories did not support it much and lost its value. Recently, it has become increasingly popular as colon cleansing with teas, herbs, enzymes, or colon irrigation. (1, 2)

Is colon cleansing good for your health? Are there any harms to it? Is it recommended to do regular colon cleansing? The mechanism of colon cleansing explained by traditional healers and colonics needs a scientific basis. Before colon cleansing, you should have an overview of the procedure, its benefits, and its harms. This article will help you weigh the pros and cons of this procedure and provide the answers to your questions about colon cleansing.

What is Colon Cleansing?

Colon cleansing is a technique in which about 60 liters of water is flushed through the colon (a small amount of water at one time and performed in several intervals), sometimes along with other substances, such as teas, coffee, or herbs. This fluid is flushed through the colon using a tube inserted into the patient’s rectum. This procedure usually takes about 30-45 minutes. (3)

Physiology of Colon Cleansing

The colon is part of your large intestine that reabsorbs water and other nutrients from the digested food, which stay inside it long before expulsion as a stool.

According to the colonics, this colon cleansing technique leads to bowel exercises and tones the bowel, keeping the evacuation of fecal matter easy by giving strength to the intestinal muscles. Moreover, it is considered that the accumulation of fecal matter in the colon causes the reabsorption of toxins into the bloodstream and interferes with the absorption of essential nutrients. This autointoxication is believed to cause various immune system-related diseases by believers of colonics with no scientific basis. (3)

However, these theories are not backed by scientific research, as we know that the intestinal muscles are smooth muscles and cannot be toned by exercise.

Are There Benefits of Colon Cleansing?

Traditional healers present colon cleansing as a very beneficial procedure for colon health and detoxifying toxins from the body. Various claims are being made regarding the benefits of colon cleansing. Still, most of them lack scientific basis and are not proven by studies. These are:

  • Better digestion
  • Weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Improved immunity
  • Improved mental outlook
  • Reduced risk of colon cancer

There is only one scientifically proven benefit of colon cleansing backed by a pilot study on patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This study showed that colon cleansing can improve IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Patients stated the symptoms of IBS were “less disturbing” after colon cleansing with the Ashong colonic irrigation apparatus (ACIA). (4)

What are the Associated Risks?

Colon cleansing is associated with many risks and complications, especially if done vigorously without any precautions. It can range from mild to severe complications. These are: (5)

Mild Adverse Effects

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating

Severe Adverse Effects

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Bowel perforation
  • Bacterial imbalance and infection
  • Septicemia
  • Renal failure

Methods of Colon Cleansing

What is Colon Cleansing

There are different ways of colon cleansing used by the colonics. These include:

Oral or Rectal Supplements

In this method, the patient takes the supplements by mouth or through the rectum. These supplements help the colon to evacuate its contents easily. Examples of this method are enemas, laxatives, herbal tea or coffee, and enzymes.

Colonic Irrigation

It is also called colon hydrotherapy, which uses several gallons of water flushed through a small tube into the patient’s rectum. Once water is injected into the colon, the therapist may massage the abdomen. Then, water is passed like a regular bowel movement by the patient. This process is repeated several times and may take 30-45 minutes.

What are the Indications for Undergoing Colon Cleansing? Is it Necessary?

Proponents of colon cleansing present this procedure as beneficial for gut health and convince people to undergo colon cleansing. Still, no such condition is stated in the medical literature to date where it is necessary for you to get colon cleansing outside the medical purpose.

The only indication we have to perform a colon cleanse in a medical facility is when doctors prepare the gut for surgical or endoscopic procedures. Following are a few clinical applications for which gut preparation and evacuation of fecal matter is indicated: (6)

  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Barium enema for radiological imaging
  • Colorectal surgery
  • Enema to relieve constipation

Moreover, it is also important to mention that our digestive system is designed to auto-clean itself by different defense mechanisms. The digestive system naturally tends to identify unnecessary and toxic substances and remove them in the form of stools. The liver is a detoxifying center of the body that turns harmful and toxic substances into neutral forms, which are then excreted in urine or stools. So, there is no indication to undergo colon cleansing to detoxify the gut or strengthen the colon.

What are the Colon Cleansing Agents Used?

Colon cleansing can be done with tap water (as in colon hydrotherapy), herbal laxatives (such as senna, cascara, and aloe vera), coffee, and teas. These can be given by mouth or through a tube placed in the rectum as an enema.

Bisacodyl, anthraquinone glycosides (Cascara), and sodium picosulfate are the colon cleansing agents commonly used in hospitals. These can be used alone or in combination to get the desired effect, followed by a tap water enema. (7)

Tips for Safe Colon Cleansing

If you are planning to undergo the procedure of colon cleansing, here are some tips that might help you to avoid any undesirable effects.

  • Always consult a doctor before undergoing any procedure. Some people may be at a greater risk of developing complications during the procedure and should be warned.
  • Understand the procedure of colon cleansing and all the potential benefits and risks.
  • Consume plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration before and after undergoing colon cleansing.
  • Always choose a qualified and licensed person with the knowledge and ability to deal with any complications that may develop during the procedure.
  • Ensure the sterilization of instruments before undergoing the procedure.

Tips to Boost Your Colon Health

Other than colon cleansing, there are many ways to improve your colon health without the risk of complications. These include: (8)

  • Good hydration (drink plenty of fluids)
  • Use of high fiber diet(plant-based diet)
  • Use of probiotics (that is good for the natural microbiome of the colon)
  • Smoking cessation
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Regular Exercise

See Also

Symptoms of Diverticulitis

Cost of Colonoscopy Without Insurance?

Does Medicare Cover Colonoscopy?

Organizations That Provide Colon Cancer Grants

Gastrointestinal Medical Education

1. Ebbel, B. (1937). The Papyrus Ebers. Copenhagen: Levin and Munksgaard. pp. 30–32.

2. Toronto Area Colon Hydrotherapy | A Brief History of Colonics. (n.d.). https://www.digestivehealthcentre.com/colonics-history.html

3. Seow-Choen F. The physiology of colonic hydrotherapy. Colorectal Dis. 2009 Sep;11(7):686-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1318.2009.01837.x. Epub 2009 Mar 27. PMID: 19508546.

4. Hsu HH, Leung WH, Hu GC. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with a novel colonic irrigation system: a pilot study. Tech Coloproctol. 2016 Aug;20(8):551-7. doi: 10.1007/s10151-016-1491-x. Epub 2016 May 19. PMID: 27194235; PMCID: PMC4960275.

5. Mishori R, Otubu A, Jones AA. The dangers of colon cleansing. J Fam Pract. 2011 Aug;60(8):454-7. PMID: 21814639.

6. Froehlich F, Wietlisbach V, Gonvers JJ, Burnand B, Vader JP. Impact of colonic cleansing on quality and diagnostic yield of colonoscopy: the European Panel of Appropriateness of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy European multicenter study. Gastrointest Endosc. 2005 Mar;61(3):378-84. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5107(04)02776-2. PMID: 15758907.

7. Fork FT, Ekberg O, Nilsson G, Rerup C, Skinhøj A. Colon cleansing regimens. A clinical study in 1200 patients. Gastrointest Radiol. 1982;7(4):383-9. doi: 10.1007/BF01887677. PMID: 6754521.

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