Uses, History, and Complications From Colonics

A colonic is the infusion of water or other liquids into the rectum by a colon therapist to cleanse and flush out the colon. It is also called colonic hydrotherapy or colon irrigation. Colonics and enemas are similar, but there are some key differences between a colonic and an enema. Learn about who needs one, what to expect, and how to manage potential complications.

complications from colonics
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell 

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.

The client and the colon therapist do not smell the feces as it is filtered through the tube. 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.

Why Do People Get Colonics?

People who get colonics typically say they do it for the following reasons:

  • To remove accumulated waste from the colon
  • To help prevent constipation
  • To improve overall health

Note, colonics are always considered a form of alternative medicine.

Due to lack of evidence, colonics are not known to improve health and wellness by most conventional medical professionals.

Thus far, scientific support for the potential health benefits of colonics is lacking because there is no hard evidence to back up these claims. However, proponents of colon hydrotherapy claim that accumulated fecal matter in the colon may negatively affect health in some of the following ways:

  • Preventing water and nutrient absorption
  • 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, MD, founder of the Kellogg cereal company. Many credit Kellogg for the popularity of colonics among conventional physicians from the early 1900s to the 1940s. 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.

Complications

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 are among those who 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.

Complications may include bowel perforation, excessive fluid absorption, electrolyte imbalance, heart failure, and serious infection.

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Article Sources
  • Mishori R. The Dangers of Colon Cleansing. Journal of Family Practice. 2011;60(8):454-457.
  • Puetz, T. "Is There a Health Benefit from High Colonics?International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Fact Sheet 2008.