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Also known as Colon Cleansing, Colon Therapy, Colon Hydrotherapy, High Colonic, Enema Irrigation, and High Enema.
Dietary detoxification (detox)
“Patients may look to colon cleansing as a way to “enhance their well-being,” but in reality they may be doing themselves harm…Despite colon cleansing’s long history and current popularity, the literature does not support its purported benefits. Historically, colon cleansing was thought to prevent autointoxication from toxins originating in the colon, but the evidence for this claim is limited. A search of the literature using the terms “colon cleansing,” “herbal colon cleanse,” “colon detoxification,” and “colon irrigation,” yielded no scientifically robust studies in support of this practice…Most reports in the literature note a variety of adverse effects of colon cleansing that range from mild (eg, cramping, abdominal pain, fullness, bloating, nausea, vomiting, perianal irritation, and soreness) to severe (eg, electrolyte imbalance and renal failure). Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity. Case reports also have noted back and pelvic abscesses after colonic hydrotherapy, fatal aeroportia (gas accumulation in the mesenteric veins) with air emboli, rectal perforations, perineal gangrene, acute water intoxication, coffee enema-associated colitis and septicemia, and deaths due to amebiasis.” The Journal of Family Practice (August 2011)
“We report a case of colorectal perforation due to self administered retrograde water enema. A 55 year-old chronically constipated male patient was admitted to the emergency unit with severe diffuse abdominal pain. He administered rectal enema using a garden hose directly connected to the water two hours before admission, until he felt a sudden sharp abdominal pain. At the operation he was found to have a perforation along the antimesenteric border of distal sigmoid colon extending to the upper rectum. Primary resection and anastomosis with intraoperative colonic lavage was performed. Postoperative course was favorable without any wound infection or intraabdominal sepsis.” Medical literature report (2003)
“There is no acceptable evidence for the need for ‘detoxification’ or that colonic irrigation or cleansing are beneficial.” Science Based Healthcare (2009)
“Colonic irrigation is a popular treatment promoted for a wide range of conditions. The aim of this analysis is to evaluate the therapeutic claims made by professional organisations of colonic irrigation. Six such organisations were identified. On their websites, a plethora of therapeutic claims were made. Common themes were detoxification, normalisation of intestinal function, treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and weight loss. None of these claims seemed to be supported by sound evidence. It is concluded that the therapeutic claims of professional organisations of colonic irrigation mislead patients.” Edzard Ernst, The International Journal of Clinical Practice (February 2010)
Alternative medicine is widely publicized in Singapore. To date there are few reports of complications arising as a result of such treatments. However, there is no legislation as yet governing alternative medicine practitioners. We present an unusual case of a patient who developed life-threatening perineal gangrene as a result of rectal perforation following colonic hydrotherapy. Annals of Academic Medicine, Singapore (July 1999)
“From June 1978 through December 1980, at least 36 cases of amebiasis occurred in persons who had had colonic-irrigation therapy at a chiropractic clinic in western Colorado.” New England Journal of Medicine (5th August 1982)
"Practitioners of colonic irrigation are not licensed, are not required to be trained, and the equipment is not required to be inspected. Even if the practitioner is a fully licensed physician, it can still be a very risky procedure with no real benefits." Skeptic Wiki (The Encyclopaedia of Science and Critical Thinking)
"Significant dangers include: perforation of the colon, infection from improperly cleaned instruments, electrolyte imbalances, and fluid absorption and overload leading to heart failure. Deaths have been reported from both perforation and infection." (Your Doctor website)
The National Council Against Health Fraud concludes that colonics has no real health benefits, but does have a number of serious hazards.
"One thing's for sure. Colon cleansing is a dubious and almost always useless procedure that shows no signs of going away. There is a thriving market offering an amazing number of products that claim to be able to rid you of all that nasty fecal buildup that doesn't exist." David Gorski MD, Science Based Medicine (7th April 2008)
"Colonic Irrigation is considered to be unsafe, does not meet professionally accepted standards, and lacks sufficient data supporting effectiveness and/or utility." Clinical practice guideline from American Speciality Health Inc. [ASH] (Revised 15th October 2009) [pdf]
"Holistic practitioners believe the colon is a sewage system and if it's not kept clean, waste products won't be cleared out and toxic substances will be absorbed into the body. They believe that the typical person may have as many as several pounds of fecal matter in their colon, which causes mucus to build up and harden on colon walls. Science says this is not true. Your colon knows how to do its job, constantly shedding old cells, absorbing nutrients and keeping a delicate balance of bacteria and natural chemicals. Interfering with this process can hurt or destroy these relationships, meaning the colon won't work as well as it should. Colon cleansing is unnecessary, and medical doctors do not advise you to do this." Article by Melissa Tennen, Health A to Z (16th August 2005)
"Doctors don't recommend colon cleansing for better health or to prevent disease. The only appropriate use for colon cleansing is in preparation for a medical examination of the colon. Your colon normally eliminates waste material and bacteria and absorbs water and sodium to maintain your body's fluid and electrolyte balance. Some colon-cleansing programs disrupt this balance and can be harmful by causing dehydration and salt depletion." Michael Picco, M.D., gastroenterologist, Mayo Clinic (28th May 2005)
"We feel that colonic irrigation is of dubious benefit, especially when delivered to remove so-called 'toxic waste' when bowel function is satisfactory. There is potential for serious harm." Includes three case reports. Letter to the Editor of the Medical Journal of Australia from surgeons Doug V. Handley, Nick A. Rieger, and David J. Rodda (2004)
Excerpt from a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Medical Journal regarding 'colonic washouts'. (2002) [Reported in FACT]