Colon Cleansing: Is It Safe?
Is colon cleansing safe? Our expert weighs in and offers more proven alternatives.
By Brooke Gurland, MD
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Colon cleansing, also called colonic hydrotherapy and colonic irrigation, is promoted for digestive troubles such as bloating, colitis, constipation and indigestion. It is also touted for completely unrelated problems. These include arthritis, alcoholism, allergies, lethargy, asthma and skin conditions.
While this popular complementary treatment offers a great option for some patients with specific problems, I caution people about its use for routine problems and outside of a colonic hydrotherapist supervision.
Colon cleansing involves flushing the colon with large volumes of fluid. Patients who can benefit from colon cleansing have severe constipation resistant to laxative use. Irrigating and evacuating stool from the colon can bring these people immediate relief.
A trained hydrotherapist performs the procedure in our medical facility under a physician’s direction. The use of disposable equipment and meticulous disinfection every time avoids bacterial contamination.
During colon cleansing, you can expect:
While this procedure is something I do offer to some of my patients, it is for problems that have not resolved after trying other, much gentler options.
Most of us can resolve our digestive issues with:
Hydrotherapy is based on the ancient “autointoxication” theory that the body poisons itself by retaining waste products. Removing fecal waste was believed to improve health.
The idea that the average person’s colon needs to be “cleansed” or that this offers health benefits is not proven. The Natural Standard Professional Database cites “limited clinical evidence validating colon therapy as a health promotion practice.” Generally, I would argue that when our bodies are in good health, they are equipped to cleanse themselves.
The adverse side effects of colon hydrotherapy may include:
Some herbal preparations used in hydrotherapy have been associated with cases of aplastic anemia and liver toxicity. Rectal perforation and disseminated abscesses have also been reported.
While most people should avoid hydrotherapy, it’s especially important that irrigation be avoided by:
These conditions increase the risks of dehydration, acute kidney failure, pancreatitis, bowel perforation, heart failure and infection.
So make sure you ask your doctor whether colon hydrotherapy is right for you and that it’s recommended for your symptoms. Also, be sure the hydrotherapist is certified by the National or Board of Colon Hydrotherapy (NBCH) or International Association of Hydrotherapy (IACH).