Colonics and Colon Hydrotherapy Safety

Before undergoing colonic hydrotherapy, you should take into account not only the benefits of the procedure but also its risks. Colonics have made a comeback in popularity in recent years, despite lingering about its overall safety. This overview will help you weigh the pros and cons of this common form of colon cleansing.

What to expect during colon hydrotherapy
Illustration by Lisa Fasol, Verywell


Also known as a high colonic or colonic irrigation, colonic hydrotherapy is used to clean out the colon for purported health benefits.

During the procedure, a tube is inserted into the rectum. Water (sometimes mixed with additives such as vitamins, probiotics, enzymes, or herbs) is pumped through the colon. After a waiting period, during which the therapist may massage your abdomen to move the fluid around, you will be led to a toilet of flush out the colonic liquid and fecal matter.

The entire session generally takes around 45 minutes from start to finish.


Colon hydrotherapy is an internationally popular form of alternative healing. It should not be confused with enemas used to treat severe constipation.

One of the foundational beliefs driving the practice is "autointoxication," the state by which prolonged exposure to the substances in fecal matter is believed to compromise not only your digestive health but your immune health as well. By clearing these substances from the body, colonics are though to positively influence intestinal flora and your overall health.

Proponents of colonic hydrotherapy strongly believe that the procedure can maintain optimal colonic health and treat a variety of physical ailments. This is due in part to the porosity of rectal and colon tissues which can absorb therapeutic substances better than if taken by mouth.

Others claim that by washing fecal matter from the colon, there is less toxic exposure to substances found in stool. Colonics are often promoted as an effective means of detoxification, normalizing bowel function, treating inflammatory bowel diseases, and promoting weight loss


There are several published reports of patients experiencing dangerous side effects as a result of colon hydrotherapy. These include potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances and perforations of the colon during the insertion of the colonic tube.

Introducing substances not normally found in the colon also poses risks. This includes non-sterile water or ingredients which may contain harmful organisms, such as bacteria or amoebas. Because the tissues of the colon and rectum are so delicate, even low concentrations of these microorganisms can be harmful. Stripping the colon of its natural flora might even allow harmful bacteria to proliferate and establish infections.

Another risk is that colonics are often performed by practitioners who are not licensed by a scientifically based organization. Those certified and licensed by organizations such as the International Association of Colon Hydrotherapy are more likely to ensure sterile practices than those who are not.

The bigger question, of course, is whether the practice is actually beneficial. Most of the current body of evidence suggests that it is not.

A 2010 review of studies in the International Journal of Clinical Practice concluded that none of the purported benefits of colonic hydrotherapy are supported by sound research and that therapeutic claims are largely misleading.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

If you decide to undergo colonic hydrotherapy and experience any of the following side effects, contact your healthcare provider immediately. If you are feeling severely ill and are unable to contact your healthcare provider, it is recommended that you go to an emergency room.

Possible signs of serious health problems following colon hydrotherapy include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
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