Overview of Enemas and Your Health

An enema is an alternative healing method said to cleanse the colon. As with colonics, this method involves introducing water into the colon by way of the rectum. Often used to treat constipation and promote bowel movements, enemas are purported to promote weight loss and offer a broad range of health benefits.

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Why Do People Perform Enemas?

According to proponents, enemas can remove waste and toxins from the colon. While most healthy individuals are able to eliminate waste efficiently on their own, some proponents claim that non-eliminated waste can build up in the colon and lead to a host of health issues. These health issues include allergies, bad breath, back pain, depression, fatigue, headache, hemorrhoids, indigestion, sinus problems, and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

In some cases, enemas are used as part of detox regimens. Enemas are also said to enhance mood, improve mental performance, and support weight loss.


Some types of enemas involve retaining liquid in the colon for extended periods of time. Although coffee enemas are the most common type of retention enema, other treatments involve infusions containing substances like probiotics, red raspberry leaf, and minerals.


So far, there's very little scientific evidence to support any of the claims for supposed health benefits of enemas.

The available research on enemas and their health effects include a study published in the journal Colorectal Disease in 2012. In the study, researchers focused on 504 patients undergoing colonoscopy (a type of medical test typically used to screen for colon cancer). All patients took a bowel preparation solution on the morning of their procedure, and 26 of those patients also received an enema.

For 25 of the 26 study participants who received enemas, a successful colonoscopy was achieved. Therefore, the study's authors concluded that enemas may be a "highly successful" solution for patients with inadequate bowel preparation prior to colonoscopy.

In a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013, however, researchers determined that enemas may not be beneficial to women during labor. A routine practice in delivery wards in many countries, enemas are thought to shorten labor and reduce leaking of fecal material (a potential source of infection to both mother and child).

For the report, scientists analyzed four previously published studies involving a total of 1,917 women. Since these studies found that enemas failed to have a significant effect on factors like infection rate and labor duration, the authors concluded that routine use of enemas during labor should be discouraged.

Side Effects & Safety Concerns

Enemas may trigger a number of side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fainting, and dizziness. Some types of enemas have been associated with electrolyte imbalances, rapid heart rate, and heart attacks.

Risks associated with enemas also include perforation of the rectum, which could cause damage to internal organs. Improperly prepared or administered enemas may result in infection.

In addition, there's some concern that repeatedly using enemas may cause weakening of the muscles in the bowel walls. In turn, this weakening may interfere with your body's ability to perform bowel movements on its own.


There are many ways to stimulate digestion without the use of enemas. For example, keeping physically active, drinking plenty of water, boosting your intake of fiber, practicing mindful eating, and managing your stress levels may greatly benefit your digestive health.

If you're considering the use of any type of alternative medicine (including enemas) to treat a chronic health problem, make sure to consult your physician first.

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  • Horiuchi A1, Nakayama Y, Kajiyama M, Kato N, Kamijima T, Ichise Y, Tanaka N. "Colonoscopic enema as rescue for inadequate bowel preparation before colonoscopy: a prospective, observational study." Colorectal Dis. 2012 Oct;14(10):e735-9.
  • Niv G1, Grinberg T, Dickman R, Wasserberg N, Niv Y. "Perforation and mortality after cleansing enema for acute constipation are not rare but are preventable." Int J Gen Med. 2013 Apr 26;6:323-8.
  • Reveiz L1, Gaitán HG, Cuervo LG. "Enemas during labour." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jul 22;7:CD000330.

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.