MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Colonic irrigation is the alternative therapy of celebrities (and those who like to imitate them): they tend to use it for all sorts of ailments, predominantly for loosing weight. And it works! When they have paid for the session, they are relieved of some cash as well as of about half a kilo of body weight. By the time they wake up the next morning, the money is still gone, but the weight is back. This is a most effective method for getting rid of some £s, but NOT an effective way for shedding a few pounds.

 Numerous synonyms for colonic irrigation exist, e.g. colonic treatment, colon cleansing, rectal irrigation, colon therapy, colon hydrotherapy, colonic. The treatment is based on the ancient but obsolete theory of ‘autointoxication’, i.e. the body is  assumed to poison itself with, ‘autotoxins’ which, in turn, cause various illnesses. So, it is implausible and there is also no evidence to suggest it is effective. But this does not stop professional organisations to make claims which are good for business.

My analysis of the claims made by professional organisations of practitioners of colonic irrigation across the globe aimed at assessing the therapeutic claims made by these institutions. Six such organisations were identified, and the contents of their websites were studied. The results showed that all of the six organisations make therapeutic claims on their websites. Frequently mentioned themes are ‘detoxification’, normalisation of intestinal functions, treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases and body weight reduction. The claims are mostly confined to symptomatic improvements – but there are exceptions, e.g. prevention of bowel cancer or sorting out Irritable Bowel Syndrome ‘once and for all’ . Other therapeutic claims pertain to asthma, menstrual irregularities, circulatory disorders, skin problems, improvement in energy levels and no longer requiring pharmacotherapy. All these claims represent testable hypotheses.

The question therefore arises whether these hypotheses have been tested and, if so, what the results of such investigations suggest? The use of colonic irrigation by alternative practitioners for any indications is not supported by any sound evidence at all. There are simply no trials to show effectiveness. Even worse is the fact that, although touted as safe, colonic irrigation can lead to serious complications.

The conclusion is therefore simple: colonic irrigation is neither demonstrably effective nor safe, and the information supplied by its professional organisations is therefore a significant contributor to the sea of misinformation in the realm of alternative medicine.

5 Responses to Drowning in a sea of misinformation. Part 3: professional organisations of colonic irrigation

  • One of the biggest proponents of colonic irrigation was Bernard Jensen, a chiropractor/author who heavily promoted his form of iridology starting in the 1950s. Looking at the iris with his special iris map often led to a diagnosis of ‘toxins’ affecting the organs, which could (of course) be cleansed out through colonic irrigation and using his supplement products (chlorophyll, enzymes, etc.). Of particular relevance to this post about colonics is that patients were often given a special mix of fiber, enzymes, etc (psyllium husk) to take before the colonic. The impressively gross ‘mucoid plaque’ that came out while flushing the colon with 5 gallons of water was (apparently) created by and made of the products taken the day before the colonic.

  • Have you looked at the number of deaths from a) side effects or drug interactions from prescribed drugs; or b) deaths from hopsital acquired infections? I am sure you will find those to be much higher than any negative effects from colonic irrigation.

    I have tried a colonic and I have to tell you I felt much better afterwards. It absolutely did something positive for me. I realize this is anecdotal evidence but I am sure the practitioners could give you thousands of other case studies.

    • Edwin said:

      Have you looked at the number of deaths from a) side effects or drug interactions from prescribed drugs; or b) deaths from hopsital acquired infections? I am sure you will find those to be much higher than any negative effects from colonic irrigation.

      What do you believe that would tell us about whether colonic irrigation has any beneficial effects?

      I have tried a colonic and I have to tell you I felt much better afterwards. It absolutely did something positive for me. I realize this is anecdotal evidence but I am sure the practitioners could give you thousands of other case studies.

      I’m sure they could, I’m sure they could… But I hope you can also see that each and every one of those is just another anecdote.

  • What is wrong with anecdotal evidence…is it less real in some way than medical evidence? There are almost no trials with solid research about colonics. Until there is proof medically, how can you write against the treatment. Dr.Y.Tanaka of Yoko clinic , Japan, proved that lymphocyctes increase after colonic irrigation and advised to keep the intestines clean . Why was the old therapy of autointoxification abandoned my the medical profession, what trials were done at the turn of the last century to test that autointoxication is now an outmoded, voodoo theory. Common sense tells you if you get blocked up from junk food, some water and herbs can help clear it .
    Please reply to me Dr. Ersnt at my email as I am researching as a journalist, where the misinformation you speak about is traced back to. If something becomes outmoded in the medical profession, does it also becoming defunct , after all bowel washouts are convieniently used before colonscopies with good effect . Before laxatives is was prescribed in the surgery and on the medical wards in hospitals.
    Cecilia Holmes

    • Cecilia Holmes said:

      What is wrong with anecdotal evidence…is it less real in some way than medical evidence?

      It can be medical evidence, but it is usually unverified and unverifiable. That’s why it’s not wise to base any healthcare decisions on it, particularly if it is contradicted by higher-quality evidence.

      There are almost no trials with solid research about colonics.

      So, what are colonic irrigationists doing about that?

      Until there is proof medically, how can you write against the treatment.

      Until there is compelling evidence that it provides any health benefit, why do you and others carry it out?

      I note from your website that you claim:

      Colonic irrigation is a superb way to remove toxins from the body; it can help many chronic conditions including:

      Obesity
      Skin Disorders
      Irritable Bowel Syndrome
      Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
      Constipation
      And more

      If there ‘are almost no trials with solid research about colonics’, on what are you basing these claims?

      Dr.Y.Tanaka of Yoko clinic , Japan, proved that lymphocyctes increase after colonic irrigation and advised to keep the intestines clean .

      Did he indeed? And on what evidence did he base his opinion?

      Why was the old therapy of autointoxification abandoned my the medical profession, what trials were done at the turn of the last century to test that autointoxication is now an outmoded, voodoo theory.

      I have no idea, but I suspect it was found to cause far more harm then benefit. However, that would seem to be irrelevant to colonic irrigation.

      Common sense tells you if you get blocked up from junk food, some water and herbs can help clear it .

      No, common sense is an extremely unreliable guide to what might work and what might not.

      Please reply to me Dr. Ersnt at my email as I am researching as a journalist, where the misinformation you speak about is traced back to.

      In terms of misleading information, I can’t see that anyone needs to look further than your own website, as I have indicated above.

      If something becomes outmoded in the medical profession, does it also becoming defunct

      Yes.

      after all bowel washouts are convieniently used before colonscopies with good effect .

      Yes – for reasons that have nothing to do with helping obesity, skin disorders, IBS, CFS, etc, etc.

      Before laxatives is was prescribed in the surgery and on the medical wards in hospitals.

      Irrelevant.

      By the way, are you aware of the guidance issued by the Advertising Standards Authority on claims about colonic irrigation? It would appear not.

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