A Doctor’s View of Colon Hydrotherapy

Colon Hydrotherapy is an ancient method of healing and it would never have survived until the present scientific age if it were without value. It is a curious fact that medical practitioners seem to be either in favour of this treatment (and usually quiet about it) or vehemently opposed to its use, and yet the objectors never have any experience of it. Every grown creature probably has an instinctive dislike of its own waste products, and this may explain why the physician is generally so remiss in examining the faeces of his patients. There are indications from ancient documents that the Egyptians and the Greeks practiced colon. irrigation therapeutically, although their ideas and the benefit to their patients are unknown to us.

The Reputation of Colonics
I first heard the term colon.ics as a young doctor practicing in California. Immediately, I knew that it was a form of quackery. It is self-evident that the bowel excretes the waste products of digestion regularly, naturally and automatically. There is no need to interfere with nature. This pre-formed opinion (and I am uncertain how it came to be so firmly formed in my mind) was reinforced when I read comments from an official source, that I can no longer identify, condemning the use of colon.ics by lay practitioners in the state of California and, in due course, the medical association lobbied for its banning through the legislature.

This surprised me a little. If something is useless and harmful, why is it necessary to make laws about it? We don't have laws against swimming in sewage nor do we lobby our legislators to make such laws. The only sensible thing any person would do with sewage is dispose of it hygenically practically. This dilemma hung in my mind for a number of years. Since then, I have assiduously prescribed diuretics to my patients who retain water, laxative to those who were constipated.  I brush my teeth every day. Think about it for a moment. Which is the cleaner part of your alimentary canal (The alimentary canal is the pipe through which the food passes in your body from mouth to anus)? The mouth is cleaner than the rectum, and yet it is the mouth that I clean with a toothbrush, with paste, and even flossing. Why clean the clean end? I think, in final analysis, the answer is that it is aesthetic. The dirty end should be beneath our dignity; or should it?

My Own Experience
Much of my learning about alternative medicine has come from my patients. To them I shall be eternally grateful. Learning about colon.ics is no exception. Patients told me how their health, their malaise, their fatigue, their abdominal distention, their chronic bowel disturbances, and their dermatitis cleared up through the use of colon.ics. The first few times I heard the story I knew that the patients were either crazy or the improvement was coincidental. How many times can you hear of such an account and continue to avoid the obvious out of sheer obstinacy? My resistance to quackery was diminishing through my experience with chelation nutrition and of course, mostly through my experience with osteopathic medicine. Was it conceivable, was it perhaps even possible, that this rather unsavoury business with the dirty end of the bowel had something to do with health? I think I resisted recognizing the benefit of colon.ics longer than my resistance to recognizing other alternative medicine as therapeutic tools because of what I would like to call the sewage aspect of the bowel.

It is strange to have to admit that the conversion and the prejudice occurred when I read a non-medical book. Erewhon by Samuel Butler 1898. It describes a topsy-turvy world where people are ashamed to eat, and do so in privacy, while they deal with and discuss their faecal matters in public, the exact opposite of our own habits. Even Samuel Butler did not deal with the sewage aspects, but he did point out that the habits we have are not always quite logical. Once one overcomes the sewage aspect, or what I should really call the sewage prejudice, it actually is rather obvious that just as we clean our skin in bathing, our teeth with brushing, our nails with clipping, our hair with shampooing and combing, it is perfectly logical to clean our colon. with irrigation.

One might argue that it is not natural but the same can be said for bathing with soap or using a toothbrush. Having dispensed therefore with the prejudicial aspects of this issue, we now need to ask more seriously what do colon.ics do, when should they be used, what is the evidence that they are effective, if any, and if there is a benefit, how might it be useful? Dentists will tell us that keeping the teeth clean protects the hygiene of the mouth and reduces the incidence of cavities. I think they are probably right. I do know that in people with certain illnesses, enhancing excretion of water and electrolytes through the kidneys can improve their health. The most important example of that is when dealing with fluid accumulation, anasarca or oedema, for instance in heart failure. It is also quite obvious that if a person is unable to move his bowels, flushing the inspissated (dry and hardened) contents can open the passage, so here we have a clear indication. If the person's bowels are blocked due to dried up faeces, flushing them out will obviously restore the ability of the bowels to move; and, it goes without saying that without bowel movements, obstruction and illness will ensue.

Subtle Conditions
There are many cases where alternative medicine looks at mild conditions and are generally accepted in medicine as enhancing the public health through catering to them. Is constipation good for you? Well, obviously not. How often should the bowels move? In medical school I was taught that there is no rule on this matter; that if the bowels move once a week that is sufficient for some and normal, contrariwise, two bowel movements a day might be normal for others. I now know better. Most people are better off if their bowels move two to three times a day. How do I know? Having developed an interest in nutrition and the function of the bowel, I have developed the habit of asking my patients about the frequency of their bowel movements and can assure the reader that in general those whose bowels move two-three times a day fare better in their health and nutrition than those who are more constipated.

Effluent Enhancement
Which organ is most responsible for waste disposal? It goes without saying that it is the bowel. Yes in some ways, waste products are excreted by the lungs (carbon dioxide), by the skin (scaling), sweat, by the kidneys (water and chemicals). Yet the vast majority of waste products are passed through the bowel.

The Bowel as an Excretory Organ
The large bowel itself serves to concentrate the contents passed into it from the small intestine. Bacterial fermentation occurs in the colon. and several products of fermentation, some of which are only slightly understood, probably serve as useful nutrients when reabsorbed. I phrased this concept in a negative way because it is clear to me that, even in these days of know-all science, a great deal of information is lacking regarding the details of this process.           

We might next ask how might colon.ic therapy increase the excretion of waste products through the pipe we call our colon.?

Stimulation of the Lining
The process of irrigating the bowel can, almost certainly have a stimulatory effect on the cells lining this organ. As the business of these cells is to provide mucous and facilitate much of the excretion, it is not surprising that stimulating enhances the effect..

Other Ways of Manipulating the Colonic
Changes in the volume of fluid, the pH and salinity can, of course, have an effect on the bowel. The colon. therapist can also judge the temperature of the irrigating fluid, to a small extent, further altering the behaviour and reaction of the cells of the lining of the bowel.

When fluid is passed into the colon., and particularly when it is passed in skilfully, without introducing any gas, such as air, there is a gradual distension of the organ. Is stretching the colon. a good idea? My answer is a clear yes. One way to improve the overall function and integrated action of the colon. is by stretching the organ, and it is quite plain that the only available way for stretching is through the installation of water gradually under slight-to-moderate pressure through the anal canal. Almost certainly this is the reason why colon. therapists report that their treatment retrains the bowel.

Retraining the Bowel
An important benefit of colon. therapy is this business of re-training the bowel. In 'civilized' society there is a tendency to defer the urge to defecate for social reasons. A person might be in a board meeting or any other assortment of social engagements. The mass action that might have been initiated by the mid-morning coffee, loading the rectum, is ignored. The contents might either stay in the rectum or shift back into the descending colon.. Toxic absorption is now likely to take place and, after ignoring the urge to stool repeatedly, the phenomenon of a regular bowel evacuation occurs less frequently.

The bowel is trained in bad habits. It is true that the fermentation in the bowel is apt to lead to flatus in these circumstances, but many civilized people ignore that stimulus as well. Almost certainly the phenomenon of rehydration and stretching the colon., particularly when combined with education that a call to stool should not be ignored and in fact solicited from the bowel, so to speak, two-three times a day at regular intervals will restore normal colon.ic function and indirectly enhance the person's health substantially. Accordingly, it is an important role of the colon. therapist to educate patients in combating constipation and generally improving bowel habits.

Colon Illnesses
Is there a place for the use of colon. irrigation (colon.ics) in patients who have illnesses such as ulcerative colitis, chronic diarrhoea, chronic dilatation of the bowel (such as Hirschprung's disease), a tendency to spasms (often called irritable bowel syndrome) and diverticulitis? My answer to these is affirmative in all the cases. It is, however, true that the colon. therapist needs to be skilled.    Excessive distensions, in the case of diverticulitis or ulcerative colitis, may theoretically pose the risk of leakage, although I have never encountered such a case..

In summary, I have come to the conclusion that colon. therapy is not mysterious, is a useful adjunct to detoxification in a variety of illnesses in which the accumulation of toxins plays a major or contributory role to a person's ill health, therefore washing the lining of the bowel is just as sensible as maintaining cleanliness in other parts of ourselves and, in the modern living environment, there is a tendency for the accumulation of toxins, increased constipation and increased concentration of the residue in the bowel because of a shortage of roughage in the diet, thus cleaning and irrigation is an advantage.

Before concluding this article, a comment about technique. The modern colon. therapist will use an instrument that allows a continuous exchange of fluid in and out of the bowel. It will allow the therapist to have continuous inspection through a glass component of the outflow pipe to inspect the contents of the effluent, and the experienced therapist will learn to recognize when the effluent indicates enhanced excretion from the bowel proper, from the liver indirectly through the bowel, or merely when particles of stool are washed out. With modern technology, the procedure is both comfortable and entirely hygienic without unpleasant aromas or any spillage. The practical details vary a little between therapists, but essentially a small tube is passed, with the individual lying on their side, into the rectum. Most colon. therapists then choose to place the patient on his back, and the irrigation takes place in this position. Typically 10 colon.ic treatments, perhaps at weekly intervals are recommended for most conditions, and those who have significant but not inherently destructive disease, such as the examples given above, can obtain life-long benefit from a series of colon. therapies without the necessity to follow-up, although certain individuals do benefit from infrequent follow-up long term.

by Thomas Dorman, M.D.
Exploring Issues of Philosophy and Conscience
in Contemporary Health Care
August 2000 - Vol. 5, Issue 8

Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, laxatives and more. Stephen Barrett, M.D. at http://wwwquackwatch.com/01quackaryrelatedtopics/gastro.html.
Colon Therapy. J.E.G. Waddington, August 1940.
The pH in Colonic Therapy. B.R. LeRoy, Jr., A.B., D.O. Pub. Fidelity Pub. Co.; Fidelity Bldg., Tacoma, WA 1933.
Chronic intestinal toxemia and its treatment with special reference to colon.ic therapy James W. Wiltsie, A.B., M.D. Wm. Wood & Co. Baltimore 1938