Archive for April, 2011

April 22, 2011

a chat about colonics

The Seattle Times recently published an article discussing the often mystifying topic of colon hydrotherapy; also know as colonic treatment. Colon hydrotherapy – as the name suggests – utilizes water (at body temperature) flushed through the colon with the intention of cleaning out impacted bowel and the nasty toxins lurking within one’s large intestine.

Sounds good? Eh, maybe? Sounds pleasant? Eh…?

Colon hydrotherapy has been used for centuries by humans as a form of health promotion and good gastrointestinal health (in the form of colonics, enemas, and the like) but may have fallen out of popularity due to its “sensitive” nature and the development of more user-friendly laxative medications. In the U.S., colon hydrotherapy was first popularized by Dr. J.H. Kellogg, MD (Yes, as in the Kellogg sported on your Special K!) Whether it is a fashionable health habit may be questioned, but what is up for greater debate is the safety and efficacy of colonic treatments. Some opponents of colon hydrotherapy fear the possibility of damaging the intestinal wall during treatment while others simply believe it to be completely ineffectual.

On the other hand, individuals who chronically suffer from constipation and experience the long-term negative effects of toxemia can greatly benefit from a therapy that aims to move the bowel. Colon hydrotherapy excels as a form of catharsis and detoxification. The other advantage of colon hydrotherapy is that is utilizes the natural muscular contractions (called peristalsis) of the large intestine rather than bypassing this mechanism (as laxative meds do) and creating a dependency on medication to do the job for the body…. It could be said that colonics are like calisthenics for your G.I.!

Although I have not personally seen anything incredible – other than the brown stuff – pass during the use of colon hydrotherapy in my patients, some practitioners tell incredible stories of small balls of colored wax or chewing gum passing from their patients’ intestine – ah, those crazy childhood years, when crayons looked so tasty!

When patients undergo a colonic their experience can range from “mild-discomfort” to “euphoria” – for some it is nothing more than a mechanical cleansing of the intestine and for others it borders on spiritual catharsis. Some people love them and even join colonic spas such as the Tummy Temple here in Seattle.

In my own practice, I do not offer colonics although I performed quite a few during my clinical rotations. Mostly this is because a colon hydro machine is a significant piece of equipment and requires a trained medical practitioner to operate (in order to ensure the patient’s safety and avoid the bowel perforations those nay-sayers are so worried about), but also because my professional opinion on the benefits of colon hydro are often stuck in a grey area. While I see the great benefits of detoxification that a colonic can achieve, I am leery of employing such a high-force intervention without first exploring other options. If my patient is suffering from constipation I want to do my best to address the cause of this abnormal GI behavior rather than resort to therapies that may eliminate the negative side-effects without fully exploring the underlying problem. Also, as a cranio-sacral therapist and acupuncturists in training, I am greatly aware of the flow of energy (or Qi) throughout the body and the significant importance of encouraging and supporting that natural flow of Qi. Personally, I am concerned that colon hydrotherapy may interfere with this natural flow in the large intestine as it promotes movement both forward and backward through the bowel rather than strictly in the a downward, descending direction.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in further increasing your body’s detoxification, or if you suffer from GI complaints that you think could be helped by colon hydrotherapy, talk to your local naturopath and find out what she thinks!

Be Well,
Dr. R