Colonic irrigation, or colonic hydrotherapy, is where waste material is flushed out of the bowel using water squirted through a tube inserted into the rectum.
This complementary therapy may sound like a new health fad, but it dates back to ancient Greece. The idea for the cleaning technique comes from the theory that waste matter in the bowel could poison the body.
The procedure is carried out while the person lies on their side for around half an hour to 40 minutes.
Around 60 litres of water may be used for the procedure. Some colonic hydrotherapists add herbal infusions to the water first.
Each procedure may cost around £45-£90.
Colonic irrigation is not recommended during pregnancy, or for people with medical conditions including heart problems, high blood pressure, fissures, haemorrhoids, kidney disease and some digestive disorders, including ulcerative colitis.
The National College of Colon Hydrotherapy calls it: "a remarkably effective therapy for primary bowel problems and many secondary problems linked to poor bowel function."
Although some people say they benefit from having their bowels flushed out, there's been no conclusive evidence of it providing any health benefits.
Practitioners of this procedure are not yet regulated in the same way as mainstream health professionals, but anyone considering having it done should make sure they use a member of the Association of Registered Colon Hydrotherapists (ARCH).
In 2011, US doctors writing in the Journal of Family Practice warned of the dangers of colonic irrigation. Side-effects reported included nausea, diarrhoea, dehydration and dizziness. More serious potential complications include kidney problems, torn or blocked bowels, and heart failure.
One of the main theories behind colon cleansing is an ancient belief called the theory of autointoxication. This is the belief that undigested meat and other foods cause mucus build-up in the colon. This build-up produces toxins, the theory goes, which enter the blood's circulation, poisoning the body.
Some people claim these toxins cause a wide range of symptoms, such as:
- Weight gain
- Low energy
The health claims made by producers of colon cleansing products and colon irrigation practitioners are broad and wide reaching. Their main goal is to clear the colon of large quantities of stagnant, supposedly toxic waste encrusted on colon walls. Doing so, they claim, will enhance the vitality of the body.
Other stated goals include:
- Improving mental outlook
- Improving the immune system
- Losing weight
- Reducing the risk of colon cancer
Is natural colon cleansing needed?
Are bowel movements enough to clear the colon? Or is it true that the only thing that can really clear the colon is a colon cleanser? It is likely the colon doesn't need this kind of help. Here are some reasons why:
- Natural bacteria in the colon detoxify food wastes.
- The liver also neutralises toxins.
- Mucous membranes in the colon keep unwanted substances from reentering the blood and tissues.
- The colon sheds old cells about every three days, preventing a build-up of harmful material.
- The normal number of bowel movements varies from person to person. It may be as often as a few times a day or as little as a few times a week.
- Increasing the number of bowel movements doesn't improve weight loss. That's because the body absorbs most calories before they reach the large intestine.