Colon Hydrotherapy: Pros & Cons

The alternative cleansing method involves some risks

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 doubts about their 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

Verywell / Lisa Fasol

What Is Hydrotherapy of the Colon?

Also known as a high colonic or colonic irrigation, colonic hydrotherapy cleans out the colon. This is claimed to have various 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 into the colon.
  • The therapist may massage your abdomen during a waiting period to move the fluid around.

After the colonic, fecal matter and the liquid that was used during the procedure is flushed out of your body. You will be taken to a toilet in order to complete this process.

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

Claimed Benefits

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 your digestive and immune health. By clearing these substances from the body, colonics are purported 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 various physical ailments. This is partly due to the porosity of rectal and colon tissues, which can absorb therapeutic substances better than if they are taken by mouth.

Others claim washing fecal matter from the colon reduces 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.

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.

Side Effects and Risks

Side effects of colonic irrigation may include:

  • Mild abdominal cramping
  • Bloating or feelings of fullness
  • Soreness in the anal area

There are several published reports of patients experiencing more dangerous adverse events due to colon hydrotherapy. These include potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances and perforations of the colon during the insertion of the colonic tube.

People with certain conditions should not undergo colonic hydrotherapy. These include:

  • People who have had surgery of the colon
  • People with kidney or heart disease
  • People who have gastrointestinal conditions such as diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, or colitis

Introducing substances not normally found in the colon also poses risks. This includes non-sterile water or ingredients that 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.

Cleansing the colon also removes "good" bacteria that live there. Stripping the colon of its natural flora might 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. You can have more confidence that those certified and licensed by organizations such as the International Association of Colon Hydrotherapy will ensure sterile practices than those who are not.

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

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you decide to undergo colonic hydrotherapy and experience any of the following side effects. If you are feeling severely ill and cannot 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

Other Ways to Promote Colon Health

There are many natural ways to promote colon health. Your diet, for example, plays a big role in the health of your colon and in your digestive health overall. Eating a diet rich in fiber is an important way to prevent constipation and keep your digestive system moving. You can get healthy fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

Probiotics may also contribute to gut health. You can get probiotics by eating yogurt or taking probiotic supplements.

Exercise is another good way to help maintain your digestive health. It helps prevent constipation, and studies have shown that it can help increase the diversity of gut microbes and reduce inflammation.

Make sure to stay hydrated, too. This is important for gut health and your health overall.

There are supplements and enemas on the market that are purported to promote colon health. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of these kinds of products. Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking supplements or trying natural health care remedies.

Summary

Colonic hydrotherapy is an alternative healing procedure that involves flushing the colon with water. Proponents believe it can help treat certain physical aliments like inflammatory bowel disease. 

Colonic hydrotherapy comes with risks, including possible perforation of the colon and fatal electrolyte imbalance. Call a healthcare provider at once if you have symptoms like vomiting, abdominal pain, or fever after undergoing this procedure.

A Word From Verywell

If you're concerned about gut health, consider adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Taking probiotics can also help improve your digestive health.

It's also a good idea to see a gastroenterologist. It's possible you have a condition that needs to be evaluated and treated by a medical professional.

If you're considering colon hydrotherapy, talk to your healthcare provider first. It is important to know all of your options and to choose a reputable practitioner before deciding to undergo this procedure.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it good to do a colon cleanse?

    There isn't much scientific evidence to support colon cleansing. There may also be side effects, and some can be serious. This is especially true if the procedure is done by someone who is not a licensed healthcare provider. 

  • What comes out during a colonic?

    Fecal matter and the water used during the cleanse is flushed back out of your body after the procedure. Proponents also say the procedure can help rid you of parasites, microbes, and toxins.

  • How do I detox my gut?

    You can improve your digestive health naturally at home. Start by drinking plenty of water, and add fiber to your diet. Juices and smoothies can also help. Ask your healthcare provider about adding probiotic supplements, or eat probiotic foods like yogurt. 

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