What is a colon cleanse?

Colonic irrigation dates back to Ancient Egypt and comes from the concept of auto-intoxication, the idea that food rots in the large intestine and that the body cannot fully rid itself of waste and toxins. The concept suggests that such toxins can lead to general, nonspecific feelings of ill-health such as irritability, fatigue, low energy and headaches.

A colonic cleanse flushes the large intestine of toxins and excess waste, thus aiming to improve feelings of well-being and energy. Colonic therapy also aims to help with constipation and inadequate bowel movements.

No current scientific evidence backs up the claims that colonic cleansing produces the effects it promises, even those by proponents who suggest it increases the efficiency of the body's natural healing abilities. According to the Mayo Clinic, although doctors may prescribe forms of colon cleansing as a preparation treatment ahead of a medical procedure, many do not recommend colonic therapy for detoxification purposes. Colonic irrigation as a standalone therapy is an alternative treatment and should not be pursued in the place of mainstream medical advice. You should not consider it without first speaking to a conventional medical professional and seeking a referral to a specialist.

RELATED: Five Questions to Ask Before Getting a Colonoscopy

What happens during a colon cleanse?

Methods for colonic therapy vary slightly between practitioners but typically involve a plastic tube being inserted through the rectum and into the colon. The colonic therapist then uses a machine to send large quantities of water (anywhere up to 20 gallons) into the colon. The treatment differs from a regular medical enema, which only flushes out the rectum and generally uses far less fluid.

After filling the colon with water, the colonic therapist massages the abdomen to aid the removal of excess waste from the colon. A different tube then carries excess fluid and waste out of the body.

The practitioner may typically repeat this procedure several times, and the entire treatment may take anywhere between 45 minutes to one hour to carry out. The time may vary slightly depending upon the judgement of your therapist and your personal wishes. Herbal ingredients and enzyme solutions are sometimes added to the water to aid the removal of excess waste.

After the therapist inserts the plastic tubes, clients are typically left alone before the therapist reenters the room to massage the abdomen. A therapist will respect the personal nature of the procedure, and clients are covered up at all times to preserve their modesty. You won't encounter any undesirable smells throughout treatment as the whole system is enclosed.

MORE: Does Colon Hydrotherapy Provide a Healthy Flush?

Risks associated with colon cleanses

Because your body rids itself of waste naturally, colon therapy isn't necessary unless prescribed by a medical professional before a procedure such as colonoscopy. If you still intend to go ahead with a colon cleansing, you should take a number of precautionary measures.

First, always seek conventional medical advice from your doctor beforehand. This is especially important if you take any medication or have underlying health issues. Colonic cleansing isn't intended to replace conventional medicine, so if you have any concerns regarding your colon or digestive health, it's essential to seek appropriate medical advice. It's also important to have a thorough consultation with your colonic practitioner before going ahead with the procedure. Ask your therapist for a list of herbs and amounts used and check them with your doctor, as some herbal supplements can interfere with drug absorption of prescription drugs.

An initial consultation should typically take around 15 minutes before treatment. Check that your practitioner uses disposable equipment and that new equipment is used for each individual client as poorly sterilized equipment can lead to infections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the production of equipment used in colon therapy but does not regulate its use.

Colon cleansing can cause several undesirable side-effects including stomach cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. The Mayo Clinic notes many other serious concerns associated with the practice including an increased risk of dehydration, bowel perforations and infection in addition to changes in your electrolytes, which can be dangerous if you have kidney disease or other health problems.

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