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Is colonic irrigation or colon cleansing worth doing?

Our brains and gastrointestinal systems are closely connected. This means that a troubled intestine can send troubling signals to the brain, and vice versa. With gut health being of utmost importance to our overall health and wholeness, it’s little wonder that colonic irrigation has now become a popular complementary therapy.

In this article, let’s explore what colonic irrigation is, whether it’s really necessary, and easy ways to take care of your colon health. 

What is colonic irrigation?

What is colonic irrigation?

Also known as colonic hydrotherapy, the procedure involves a steady stream of tepid, purified water (up to 60 litters), or other substances like herbs and coffee, flowing through the rectum, via a disposable speculum, into the large intestine1. It is done to loosen and remove accumulated stools from the body. 

This procedure is commonly used by alternative medicine practitioners for cleaning and detoxification purposes; however, scientific evidence does not support colonic hydrotherapy as a way to cleanse the body or improve gut health.

What does colonic irrigation do?

Bowel preparation before colonoscopy is NOT colonic irrigation. In a medical setting, bowel cleansing involves consuming bowel preparation, or a liquid called PEG (Polyethylene glycol) prescribed by a doctor to clean one’s bowels. Bowel preparation cleanse the colon from faeces and debris to allow the doctor to examine colon with camera during the colonoscopy. 

In contrast, some people believe a colonic irrigation serves the following purposes: 

Detoxification

Colonic irrigation is commonly used to detoxify the body from toxins and waste products, but there is no conclusive evidence for this, mostly because our digestive system and kidneys naturally eliminate waste material and bacteria from the body and liver.

Improvement of IBS

Colonic irrigation is thought to ease IBS symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation, and abdominal pain, but this is no evidence for this statement. Only a single pilot study2 done on a small group of patients who reported possible health benefits after colonic irrigation has been published. However, the same researchers acknowledge that there is a need for further studies that prove colonic irrigation as a safe treatment for IBS.

Weight loss

Patients do report weight loss following colonic irrigation, but as this is due to the loss of a large amount of water and stools, such weight loss might only last for a few days.

Side effect and complications

Side effects of colonic irrigation include: 

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting

Colonic irrigation can result in:

  • Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Perforation of the rectum
  • Inflammation of the colon's inner lining (colitis)
  • Electrolyte unbalance (especially dangerous for those with pre-existing conditions)

Should I avoid colonic irrigation?

Colonic irrigation is CONTRAINDICATED for those who have:

  • Diverticulosis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Tumors in your rectum or colon
  • Heart disease or kidney disease
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Diabetes
  • Had prior colon surgery

The risk of side effects from colon cleansing is high3 for individuals with such conditions. In light of your pre existing ailments, it’s paramount to consult your doctor before any intervention. 

What else can I do to improve my colon health?

There are many easy ways that you can improve your colon health:

Be physically active

High levels of physical activity have consistently been identified as being associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. It is estimated that a large number of colon cancer cases are attributed to either being physically inactive, or having a low fibre and processed diet.

Your food choices, not what you flush through your colon, have the greatest impact on colon health. Studies 4 suggest that a diet that’s high in meat, and refined grains and sugar and processed food can contribute to risk of colon cancer. Maintaining an appropriate body weight is also known to reduce one’s risk of colon cancer.

Eat sufficient fibre

Having both soluble and insoluble fibre in your diet (eg. bran, fruit, oatmeal) can help with a wide range of gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation, diverticular disease, and colorectal cancer. Dietary fibre intake is also largely associated5 with overall gut health and metabolic health and the prevention of other pathologies like cardiovascular disease.

Drink more water

Staying hydrated is the simplest way to regulate digestion. 

Avoid smoking

A population-based US study6 of colon cancer has found that those who smoke more than a pack of cigarettes a day have an approximately 50% increased risk of colon cancer. Furthermore, those who stopped tobacco use continued to remain at increased risk of colon cancer, even if the last cigarette was more than 10 years ago.

Aged 50 and above? Get screened

Mortality from colorectal cancer can be reduced by screening asymptomatic individuals for the presence of adenomatous polyps. These polyps take 5-10 years to become malignant, and are present in 25% of those aged 50 and above7.

Ways to improve your colon health

Your body is naturally able to detoxify itself

Remember, if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you. Toxins can get into your body when you breathe, eat, drink, or through your skin, and are also made in your body during metabolism. These toxins are transformed and removed from your body when you:

  • Sweat
  • Urinate
  • Defecate
  • Breathe

Not all bacteria are bad. Your gastrointestinal system requires good bacteria. Colon cleansing can potentially disturb the balance of good bacteria and cause more problems down the road.

If you’re still interested in undergoing a colon cleanse, please only do so with the advice and guidance of a trusted doctor. This is especially important if you have any health conditions and/or take regular medication(s). Instead, we encourage you to consider the many other ways of improving your colon health naturally.

Literature

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/colon-cleansing/faq-20058435 
  2. Hsu HH, Leung WH, Hu GC. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with a novel colonic irrigation system: a pilot study. Tech Coloproctol. 2016 Aug;20(8):551-7. doi: 10.1007/s10151-016-1491-x. Epub 2016 May 19. PMID: 27194235; PMCID: PMC4960275.
  3. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/colon-cleansing-is-it-safe/
  4. Slattery M. L. (2000). Diet, lifestyle, and colon cancer. Seminars in gastrointestinal disease, 11(3), 142–146.
  5. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/10/3209
  6. Slattery, M. L., Potter, J. D., Friedman, G. D., Ma, K. N., & Edwards, S. (1997). Tobacco use and colon cancer. International journal of cancer, 70(3), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1097-0215(19970127)70:3<259::aid-ijc2>3.0.co;2-w
  7. https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/106/screening_colorectal_cancer_nuhs 

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