Does Colon Hydrotherapy Provide a Healthy Flush?

Dr. Sharda Sharma uses an FDA approved colonic irrigation machine that feeds water into the colon. Fluids and waste are flushed out of a second tube. (Photo by Geraldine Pritchard)

Dr. Sharda Sharma uses an FDA approved colonic irrigation machine that feeds water into the colon. Fluids and waste are flushed out of a second tube. (Photo by Geraldine Pritchard)

Nancee Lyons of Washington, D.C. first turned to colon hydrotherapy after realizing her bowel habits weren't regular.

"I guess I've always had a problem with constipation, but I think it's just my body's constitution," Lyons says. "I eat healthy and eliminated red meat and pork from my diet in the early '90s, so it tells me my bowel habits are more than diet driven."

Lyons, who normally has colonics once a season, says she feels better after her sessions and doesn't have any concerns about the treatment. "I'm always amazed at what is flushed out of my system during a colonic, so I know they work," she says.

The practice of flushing the colon, or large intestine, with an injection of water has been around since ancient times. In a 2011 online poll of Angie's List members, almost 15 percent say they've had a colonic, also referred to as colonic irrigation.

Most members, who've gone to wellness centers, spas or even a chiropractor's office for the treatment, say it was part of a body detoxification regimen or to help with weight loss. Some consumers and providers also suggest it can give major relief to gastrointestinal conditions, such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.

But a review in the August 2011 issue of The Journal of Family Practice says there's no proof to back health benefit claims. On the contrary, it may even be harmful. "It is just not there," says the review's lead author Dr. Ranit Mishori of the evidence. "I will be more than happy to reconsider if anybody can provide robust scientific studies that confirm any positive effects."

Benefits of colonics debated

Mishori, a family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and her colleagues looked at 20 studies that evaluated colon hydrotherapy as well as colon cleansing with products such as laxatives and tea and found they had adverse effects ranging from cramping to electrolyte imbalance and rectal perforation.

Related: Colonic irrigation

"Colon hydrotherapy is not just a gentle enema, it's a form of an extreme enema or 'enema on steroids' as I like to call it," she says, and adds it may also eliminate the good bacteria found in the intestines, which is an important part of the body's immune system. "There are no proven benefits, so why take any risks?"

Dr. Edgar Guess, a board certified physician and vice president of the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy, says critics' claims are ridiculous. "There have been no proven cases of perforation of the colon in the U.S.," he says. "And the alteration of the normal flora of the colon by a colonic is minuscule if any. The flora in your colon is altered more by antibiotics."

Colon hydrotherapy risks

While the alteration of normal flora during a colonic may be small and perforations rare, Mishori says, consumers should still be concerned about potential problems. She cites Texas cases where one woman died and four patients suffered injuries in 2003 following colon hydrotherapy.

The Texas Department of Health referred the cases to the state attorney general who filed six lawsuits against colon hydrotherapy providers.

The lawsuits alleged the providers advertised, sold or used colon hydrotherapy devices without physician oversight, which is required in Texas, and that providers made false claims about the benefits of those devices. In a court ordered judgment in 2005, the defendants pledged to adhere to Texas law and FDA regulations.

The FDA has only approved the use of colonic irrigation units or devices before medical procedures such as an X-ray or endoscope, and they've issued warning letters to several manufacturers for lack of FDA approval or for making unapproved claims about the devices.

FDA spokeswoman Morgan Liscinsky says individual states regulate who can operate colonic irrigation devices, but the manufacturer should be offering training to providers on how to use it.

Colon hydrotherapy basics

colon hydrotherapy cleanses the bowels by flushing water thorugh the large intestines.
Colon hydrotherapy is the practice of flushing the colon, or large intestine, with an injection of water

Colon hydrotherapy - or colonic irrigation - is centered around the belief that waste left in the colon can poison the body. During the treatment, which takes about 45 minutes to an hour, the patient lies on a table and a certified colon hydrotherapist inserts a lubricated disposable nozzle into the rectum.

The nozzle, which is attached to a long plastic hose connected to a colon hydrotherapy unit, feeds warm water into the rectum and colon. The water slowly breaks down built-up fecal matter and causes the colon to contract - flushing out the fluids and waste through a second tube.

Guess, who owns the Beverly Hills Wellness Center in California that offers colon hydrotherapy, says their clients requesting colonics most frequently complain about chronic constipation. "If you eliminate once or twice a day, it's good, but most people don't eliminate that well," says the retired ob-gyn who's performed the treatments for 45 years.

Guess' therapists do between 40 and 50 hydrotherapy sessions - which are usually an expense not covered by health insurance - each week at the rate of $95 per session.

Dr. Sharda Sharma, a highly rated general practitioner who has performed colon hydrotherapy at her Sharma Holistic Medical Center in Millburn, N.J., for more than 15 years, says most of her clients also come in for relief from constipation.

Sharma starts clients on a weekly schedule so they can experience the best results of colon elimination, she says. Each session costs $100. "My clients have better bowel function and increased energy afterwards because constipation can cause such sluggishness," she says.

But Mishori says she wouldn't recommend colonics for constipation. Instead, she says people should see their doctor if they experience any gastrointestinal problems. "There could be some very specific reasons for the constipation that need to be identified and treated," she says.

Dr. Paul Miskovitz, a highly rated gastroenterologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and author of "The Doctor's Guide to Gastrointestinal Health," says he doesn't recommend colonics. But, he adds, if a patient wants to undergo them periodically, he wouldn't object as long as the proper precautions are followed.

Talk to your doctor first

Miskovitz says patients should talk to their doctor and receive a medical evaluation before receiving colon hydrotherapy. If they have significant colorectal disease or another medical condition, such as end-stage renal disease, cancer or are taking antibiotics to treat diverticulitis, they shouldn't get it done.

"Colonics should also only be done in a safe and sterile fashion to avoid transmission of viral hepatitis A, B and C, as well as other harmful bacteria," he adds.

Both Miskovitz and Mishori believe a healthy lifestyle is the best way to protect bowels. "Our bodies have already been designed to rid themselves of toxins, and there is no need to assist the healthy body in doing so," Mishori says.

Miskovitz suggests a low fat, low cholesterol diet with fruits, vegetables, fiber, a multivitamin including folate and B-12, and plenty of fluids and exercise.

At highly rated Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn., gastroenterologists were the first in the country to offer hydrotherapy prior to colonoscopies more than five years ago as an alternative to the liquid polyethylene glycol bowel preparation.

"We wanted to have a higher percentage of people getting colonoscopies so they don't get cancer," explains Dr. Joseph Fiorito, chief of gastroenterology. "The liquid prep was a deterrent." Fiorito adds that hydrotherapy has a place for patients who can't tolerate other preps, particularly the elderly and those with medical conditions that make it difficult to reach the bathroom. "We've found very good results," he says.

Few states require physician oversight

Susan Hofer, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, says under their state law, a patient must have a doctor's order to receive colon hydrotherapy. They are one of at least a few states, including Texas, that require physician oversight.

"Once a physician determines it to be medically necessary, he or she may authorize someone who is appropriately trained and supervised to perform the procedure," Hofer says. If caught operating without supervision, Hofer adds, therapists in Illinois can be fined up to $5,000 per incident.

Proponents and some skeptics of hydrotherapy agree consumers should make sure their therapist has training through the International Association of Colon Hydrotherapy, a professional training and certification organization.

To be certified, they require a high school diploma, CPR training, completion of college-level anatomy and physiology, and a 100-hour course that includes 25 therapy sessions with clients. Florida currently is the only state that requires licensing.

Member Norman G., of Potomac, Md., who didn't want to use his last name for privacy reasons, first learned about colon hydrotherapy a half century ago when he lived in St. Petersburg, Fla. "It was widely advertised as a cure for everything," Norman says. But when he suffered constipation and couldn't find relief in 2007, he decided to give it a try.

Since then, the 82-year-old has had it done five or more times and has paid $100 each session. Although he has no concerns about safety thanks to highly rated Melissa McGlone, a certified colon hydrotherapist in Alexandria, Va., he did make sure to tell his gastroenterologist about it.

"He said he didn't recommend it regularly to patients, but there are patients for whom it worked," Norman says. "And it worked well for me."

- With additional reporting by Jackie Norris and Matthew Brady

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on October 31, 2011.

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My experience with colon hydrotherapy involved the reverse tube taking it all out for you...and when I did the hydrotherapy, I CRIED LIKE A was very emotional and releasing...probably also because I felt very nauseous throughout..but I did feel lighter afterwards. Pretty traumatic though. Why would I want to pay to feel crampy and diarrhea-like when I don't have to? Home enemas probably gentler and you get a similar effect...

Colonics has been around for centuries and while colonics has not been approved by the FDA we do NOT hear of people dying from colonics or experiencting severe or disabling side effects from it. We HAVE heard of people dying or suffering severe side effects from drugs that HAVE been approved by the FDA and some of these drugs cost way more than a colonics session in both money and quality of or lack of life. My family and I have had colonics and I must agree that there is a lot that is flushed out and the eyes do shine afterwards, seriously! It works for us with no list of side effects in contrast to the list of possible side effects that come with drugs. If it works for you what else matters!? Oh, but then - there IS money to made by big compaies with a femine douch but no money for big companies to make with colonics. Hmmmmm?

My family doctor recommended that I have one before I start my weight management program. I must say that is the best thing I could have done. Before I went my belly was fat, stuffed and hard and I was not energized at all. After seeing what came out of me in that room I had a change of heart and mind on what and how I eat. I will probably do it again I am sure but since changing my diet I may not need it as often thank goodness. I recommend it if you got 45 min of your time.

I was having a lot of problem with my stomache with a lot of gas and started colon hydrotherapy and I feel so much better! I had 10 treatments done ( one per week) and I am passing gas only a few times per day now. I truly believe this has helped me, so I recommend it.

I started colon hydrotherapy 2 years ago, doing this on a weekly basis, a therapist did this for free for me. I was addicted to pain meds, diagnosed with degenerate disc disease, 3 discs. Since learning how to get the drugs out of my system via coffee enemas, also the colon hydro therapy. I have been off the drugs for close to 1 1/2 years. Yellow color came through that tube for a long time. I am pain free in my back. I will always do colon therapy. My life has changed because of understanding toxin build up and how to get rid of this waste. My therapist recently passed away, now I will become what she was, I will give back to the less fortunate. I have seen parasites, mucus, yeast all leave my body. I have more energy, my eyes are bluer than they ever have been, as well as brighter. My opinion, find some one passionate, not greedy. 100$ is greedy in my opinion, the machine is costly, but you are given quality of life, what an honor!!

Yes, Colon therapy do helps, Because it claim detoxification increases the efficiency of the body's natural healing abilities, it is sometimes promoted as a treatment for illness. It is often promoted as a general preventive health measure or as part of a routine internal hygiene regimen.

A post note: No CHT in their right mind would administer a session on a client that has a contraindication, namely...recent surgery, cancer, diverticulitis, fissures, hernia, colitis or crones disease, polyps, hemoroids. We are instructed in school not to! The treatment of constipation in people with these conditions should be treated by a G.I. only.

I read the whole article and all the responses. As with anything, opinions are varied. I am a Certified CHT and practiced for many years. The effects are as good as the therapist administrating the hydrotherapy. The description above that it is a "high pressure water tap enema" is laughable and only tells me that the writer, Doctor or not, knows nothing about it. All I know is I had clients coming to me in tears because of irregular bowl movements, sporadic bowel movements, lack of bowel movements and after...yes! diet and nutrition help, change in bathroom habits, self tummy massage, a regular walking schedule and changes in emotional stress levels and CHT administered in a way specifically for that person...they saw results that they have never had in their life. A majority of my clients had already talked to their GP and G.I. doctors to no avail. After just a few sessions, they saw long lasting results. You do not become dependent and need to get them to have a bowel movement. Like I said The results are as good as the therapist. You need to find someone who is trained well and experienced and is passionate about what they do...If I could I would give anyone one for free.

I had three colonics over three months. This was on the advice of a friend with digestive issues who swears by them - I wasn't having any issues but she told me it made her feel wonderful. I felt no different, except being about $300 lighter in the wallet area. Plus it was sort of gross and weird. My friend with digestive issues? Still has digestive issues, still gets regular colonics; no improvement after 4 years. Nothing has changed, so in my book that means the "treatment" isn't working. I think she's addicted to the procedure. I'm perfectly healthy without someone sticking a hose up my bum every few weeks, thank you veryt much. My friend has a lot of health issues, none of which have been ameliorated by the hose-up-the-bum treatment since 2008.

If you were perfectly healthy prior, where would you expect to feel different? Of course, there was no difference! If your friend says she feels wonderful then It's helping her health. It's not curing the underlying cause of her problems, but it is helping her quality of life.

Why pay for this when you can buy an enema bag and do it yourself? If it's pressure you need, squeeze the bag.

Angie, I have just started getting colon hydrotherapy on a monthly basis. I was sceptical at first, but when my VA doctor did a coloscopy on me 4 months ago, he said, "No proplems. You are clean and good to go." Nothing noted. Then I still did not feel right and my sleep continued to be restless. My first treatment of colon hydrotherapy revealed several tape worms, flem that was packed deep inside my colon, and a few other items that do not need mentioning. What the doctors, who oppose colon hydrotherapy will not tell you is that prior to the late 1950's, nurses did a lot of colon hydrotherapy and x-rays. In the 1960's hospitals stopped donig these treatments because people were getting well. There is no money in wellness--only sickness. Death begins in the colon, and getting your colon cleaned out, from time to time is a healthy way to live. You wouldn't leave bowels on your skin, why leave it in your body? FACT: several HIV positive patients have been cured, because of colon hydrotherapy. Since most doctors are regulated by insurance companies, and the insurance companies are in tight with the FDA; what do you think the average family doctor or board certified--by the FDA--colon specialist is going to say? If I make money at colonoscopies, then that is what I am going to sell you. I am just saying that the alternative medicine doctors need to be included in this review. Alternative medicine is allowed, as long as it is practiced in a traditional way. Thanks

Yes, colon hydrotherapy helped me a lot. Even though I change the way I eat and still need a colonic. If you do it everyday, then it is not good. I encourage my clients to listen to their colon. If their colon said once a month, every two month or quarterly, go ahead, just not everyday. People are just scared and skeptical. Just think of getting your teeth clean. If you brush your teeth, mouth wash, and floss every day, and your doctor still still you still need to do more. In my opinion, I believe it is safe.

More research is needed on the subject - period. It is easy to validate or dismiss something on the basis of a single incident with a single practitioner. Hopefully there can be more research to validate the therapy.

about 50 years ago, as chief scientist for a pharma co, the same "operators" advertising "high colonics" also tried to purchase prescription drugs from us. and they were prosecuted as illegal "doctors". i prefer using polyethylene glycol 3350, originally rx but for several years otc. i have used same for about 7 yrs. nothing is perfect, but on a strict regime it works. proper diet!

Actually it was an email that was medically misleading and of probable harm to your clients. "Is hydrotherapy right for your colon?" This is a misuse of your mailing list and I actually believe weakens any credibility you have with customers. You should never have let garbabge like this be mailed out. I am willing to bet you were paid for this junk to be sent.

Yes, colon therapy is very effective. I had my first about 10 years ago when I had my first colonoscopy. My friend/therapist suggested I use hydrotherapy to clean out prior to the procedure. She said the chemicals given to people to drink as a prep basically burn everything off the inside of the colon...very hard and unhealthy on the body. I used the hydrotherapy and felt wonderful after the procedure. The nurse seemed skeptical when I told her I did not do the prescribed prep, but the Dr. doing the procedure said I was as clean as could be. I am a believer and would never do it any other way. The therapist suggested taking "Acidophilus" afterwards to replenish the good bacteria. I am 66 years old and wouldn't hesitate recommending this type of cleanse. Vikki

Colon therapy works for those who need it, understand it, and whose Board Certified (expletive deleted)will NOT help heal what they do not understand, namely me and others. Angie's List has lost my approval for this article. Please support "Paybacks are Heaven", I am on facebook, and would prefer to serve others, harm no one, and just stating this above is against my religion, for I have criticized, condemned, and complained. Please forgive me. Personal knowledge, experience, and deep meditation on this issue is what brings me to discuss this procedure which healed me greatly when others failed, sorry Docs. My bliss in life is to share information helpful to others.

As a Board Certified Colon&Rectal surgeon of 36 years of experience, I can categorically state that colonic hydrotherapy is simply a high volume high pressure tap water enema that only benefits the practitioner at $100 a pop and borders on quackery. It has no real health benefits except temporary relief of constipation but is fraught with risk of bowel perforation especially in the elderly, patients with inflammatory colitis or severe diverticulosis. It should never be attempted without prior consultation with a physician.

Colonics may do more harm than good. Yes, some people find them helpful but that does not mean that its good for them. Here is the major fallacy regarding the need for colonics: "the colon contains toxins." NO there are no toxins in the colon. The toxins are eliminated in the urine. Otherwise patients who are constipated would be poisoned to death. Its mostly people who are acutely constipated who find it difficult to handle it. There are patients who have a BM every two weeks and have done so their whole lives and they are not bothered with it at all. The main thing against doing regular colonics is that the cells of the lining of the colon derives their nutrition from the stool. So contrary to all what those quacks out there say, the stool contains the nutrients of the colonic lining. Most of these "Board Certified MDs" who offer this practice usually are not practicing their speciality. Take it from a colon and rectal surgeon, colonics are not necessary and are going to be harmful if used on a regular basis.

Yes colon therapy does help. I was having all sorts of stomach issues. From extreme pain and bloating to severe constipation and doing a colonic once a month has made all those symptoms disappear

this procedure seems like it'd be more for extreme cases where one is out of balance. i suppose it's a quick fix to something that has built up over time. if you were to do it the "right way," you'd have to change your diet and habits... things are meant to come out one way... detox doesn't have to be done this way - not natural and not overall healthful, but i'm sure beneficial to some degree. IF we were to compare the "right way" vs. this "forced" method so to speak, i'm sure we'd find more effective and long term benefits/effects detoxing naturally than going thru this procedure. certainly this can be useful in the short term and maybe for a li'l while... but it really comes down to proper habits - like anything. shortcuts such as this provide short term benefits.

Does colon therapy help you?

I suffered from constipation and very thin "product" , after three colonic sessions, I am more regular, (usually once or twice a day with the occasional skip day), the "product" is ticker and definitely healthier looking, I went to a clinic that would only irrigate the colon and would leave the work of expelled the "product" to you, nothing about a second hose in your body to "vacuum" the product, besides constipation, I was, and am a healthy person so my recommendation is before doing it, check a reputable clinic, do it with measure (i may do it as once a year but certainly didn't let them pressure me into do it more than 3 times), first time very little, second time more and the 3rd time I was surprised to see how much was in me!, so in short, I found the experience useful but like everything , do not abuse it and find a reputable place .

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