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What is a Colonic?

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Updated June 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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A colonic is the infusion of water into the rectum by a colon therapist to cleanse and flush out the colon. It is also called colonic hydrotherapy or colon irrigation.

What is a Typical Colonic Like?

After completing a health history form and consulting with the colon hydrotherapist, the client is asked to change into a gown and lie face up on a treatment table.

The colon therapist inserts a disposable speculum into the anus. The speculum is connected to a long disposable plastic hose connected to the colon hydrotherapy unit.

Warm, filtered water is slowly released into the colon. The water causes the muscles of the colon to contract, called peristalsis. Peristalsis "pushes" feces out through the hose to be disposed in a closed waste system.

The client and the colon therapist do not smell the feces. The therapist usually looks at the feces through the clear hose, and may comment on the color.

The client typically feels some discomfort in the abdomen during the therapy.

The colon therapist may apply light massage to the client's abdominal area to facilitate the process.

After the session, the therapist leaves the room, and the client may sit on a toilet to pass any residual water and stools.

A typical session lasts 45 minutes to one hour.

What's the Difference Between a Colonic and an Enema?

Colonics and enemas are similar, but there are some key differences between a colonic and an enema.

Why Do People Get Colonics?

People get colonics for the following reasons:
  • To remove accumulated waste from the colon
  • To help prevent constipation
  • To improve overall health

Health professionals are divided over the use of colonics. The majority of conventional health practitioners do not feel colonics can improve overall health. They believe colonics should only be used before certain medical procedures, such as a colonoscopy, or occasionally for constipation.

Proponents of colon hydrotherapy believe that fecal matter can accumulate and harden in the colon. They believe this buildup of fecal matter may:

  • Prevent the absorption of water and nutrients
  • Lead to constipation
  • Allow harmful colon bacteria and yeast to grow
  • Cause stagnant toxins to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the colon wall (called autointoxication)

Lack of fiber, excess sugar, and a diet high in red meat are believed to contribute to the problem.

History of Colonics

One of the earliest proponents of colonics and the autointoxication theory was John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., founder of the Kellogg cereal company.

Many credit Kellogg for the popularity of colonics from the early 1900s to the 1940s among conventional physicians. Kellogg frequently lectured on colon therapy and recommended colonics for many conditions, such as depression and arthritis.

As laxatives grew in popularity, colonics became less popular. Also, the lack of published evidence on the benefits of colonics contributed to its decline.

Today, some alternative practitioners continue to recommend colonics. It has become popular again, and many people seek colon therapy for detox and colon cleansing and to improve health and wellbeing.

Side Effects and Safety of Colonics

Consult your primary care provider before having a colonic. People with certain conditions, such as diverticular disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, severe hemorrhoids, blood vessel disease, congestive heart failure, heart disease, severe anemia, abdominal hernia, gastrointestinal cancer, recent colon surgery, and intestinal tumors should not have a colonic.

Pregnant women should not have a colonic as it may stimulate uterine contractions.

Side effects of colonics may include nausea and fatigue after the session, which can last for several hours.

Although infrequent, complications may include perforation of the abdominal wall, electrolyte imbalance, and heart failure caused by excessive absorption of water.

Additional Tips

After a colonic, the client is usually encouraged to take supplements containing friendly colon bacteria, called probiotics.

Refrain from eating prior to a session.

Where to Find a Colon Hydrotherapist

Look for a colon hydrotherapist certified by the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy.

Sources

Norlela S, Izham C, Khalid BA. Colonic irrigation-induced hyponatremia. Malays J Pathol. 2004 Dec;26(2):117-8.

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