The Controversy surrounding Colon Hydrotherapy and Colon Cleansing: Is Colon Hydrotherapy Science or Scam? has published previously an introductory article on colon hydrotherapy.)

What Is Colon Cleansing or Colon Hydrotherapy?

Colon cleansing, colon hydrotherapy, or colon irrigation is a controversial practice. One of the earliest centers of colon hydrotherapy in Europe was established in 1829 by Vincent Priessnitz in Grafenberg (now in the Czech Republic, in central Europe); the center began with 45 patients. By 1837, there were 570 patients, and by 1839, there were at least 1,400 patients per year for the next three years (Bradley and Dupree, Medical History, 2003). Colon hydrotherapy then subsequently became popularized in the United Kingdom starting in the 1840s. By the 1860s, there were 20 centers performing colon hydrotherapy in Britain, attracting a large following of many prominent Brits at the time. Colon-irrigation practitioners have claimed that the Egyptians have been performing colon cleansing since 1500 BCE (Before Common Era) or some 4,000 years ago. In the late 1800s, Dr. Elmer Lee introduced the method of irrigating the intestines to the United States. But is this practice based on sound science, or is it a costly scam?colon

There is a wide variety of names and techniques associated with colon cleansing and colon hydrotherapy; these names are similar and operate under the same principles: eliminating the old stagnated, putrefied, compacted fecal materials out of the colon. These various names are colonic cleansing, high colonic irrigation colon cleansing, high colonic, high enema, colonic enema, home self colonic, colon hydrotherapy, and colonic hydrotherapy. A wide variety of herbs, water (e.g., warm water, pure water, herbal water, oxygenated water), and a lot of water and a combination of both have been used to achieve the objective of cleansing the colon.

Although the colon is essentially a storage tube for the body's metabolic wastes before being excreted by the body, its main functions are the extraction of water and salts from the wastes. In mammals, the colon consists of the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon. The colon from the cecum to the splenic flexure (the junction between the transverse and descending colon) is also known as the right colon. The remainder is known as the left colon.

Since the 1860s, critics have called colon cleansing "unorthodox therapy," "medical heresy," "quackery," "money down the toilet," "scam," "expensive, utterly useless and potentially harmful," and "a very expensive enema," among others. As colon hydrotherapy is still practiced today in 2008, nearly 180 years later after the first hydrotherapy center was established in Europe, what is the explanation for its long survival? Is it really a scam?

A Theory of Colon Hydrotherapy

Practitioners of colon hydrotherapy believe that the accumulation of old, hardened feces in the colon can stretch the colon out of shape until it becomes three or four times as wide and twice as long as it should be, with only tiny channels through which new waste material may pass. This situation can lead to hernias, collapsed colon, spastic colon, prolapsed colon, redundant colon, diverticulitis, and hemorrhoids. In the colon, the uneliminated feces continue to putrefy and release toxins, thus resulting in "autointoxication." Parasites, amoebas, and worms live in and thrive upon the stagnant putrefactive feces.

Hydrotherapy therapists believe that in most cases, colon cleansing will be enough to eliminate the waste buildup and its resultant diseases. Colon cleansing will also eliminate the toxic, putrefactive matter, resulting in improved health. Therapists believe that colon cleansing will also reduce "transit time," the time it takes to expel the metabolic waste after the food is eaten and digested. A short transit time usually means that a person has no problem with constipation.

Colon Hydrotherapy: A Description

So what is the exact procedure involved in colon hydrotherapy? Nowadays, practitioners of colon hydrotherapy must be certified by the International Association of Colon Hydrotherapy (I-ACT). To be certified in any one of the four levels, one has to complete between 100 and 1,000 hours of approved colon-hydrotherapy training and must have one to three years of hands-on practice in the field. One must also pass various levels of I-ACT exams. This procedure is typically performed by people without a medical degree (an M.D. or D.O.).

The theory behind colon hydrotherapy is that the colon is the body's "septic tank" and that when waste and toxins are not expelled properly, the colon will be filled with waste and blockages, which will lead to serious digestive-tract problems. Because these hardened, dried feces are stuck to the lining of the colon wall, they can only be expelled out of the body with help of hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is supposed to cleanse the colon and "hydrate the lower colon."

According to the I-ACT, the hydrotherapy procedure involves pumping several gallons of warm, purified water into the colon, which will soften and loosen the hardened and dried feces stuck to the colon wall. Clients are often asked not to drink water two hours before the procedure. Clients will disrobe from the waist down and put on a gown. Clients lie in the bed and the therapist lubes the anus and then inserts a speculum. One therapist explained that "colon hydrotherapy can be taxing on the nervous system," so that clients should be as relaxed as possible. Inserting the speculum may be the most difficult part of the entire procedure; but once the speculum passes the sphincter muscle near the anus, it can't be felt.

The speculum has two hoses: one for pumping in the clean water and another for pumping out the wastewater. The two tubes are run through a lighted panel so that people can see for themselves what is clogging their intestines. Initially, the therapist will run the water for a while to get the client used to the procedure. Then the soaking will occur. The therapist will fill the client's intestine as much as the client can handle. During this time, he or she will have a sensation of desiring to urinate. Then after several minutes, the water will be released. This process is repeated two to three times. During each filling, the client will receive an abdominal massage with lavender-scented oil (with the objective of calming the nerves and of physically loosening the hardened feces inside the colon).

After the procedure, the client goes into the bathroom to empty whatever hasn't been flushed out during the cleansing process. Some liquid wastewater may come out instead of solid waste. In another variation, the "open system," the rectal tube is the size of a pencil, and when the water is turned on, there is no need to interrupt the cleansing to release the injected water. The client will be filled with water and when she or he needs to push wastes out, the tube will stay inserted so that whatever wastes expelled from the colon will pass around the tube and down the drain. In this system, there is no odor and the client will have as much privacy as he or she wants.

In short, colon hydrotherapy is a procedure to physically flush out the old dried, hardened feces stuck to the intestine-presumably due to the lack of dietary fiber in the daily diet and chronic constipation. According to the therapists, as one gets older, one will see better results with the treatment. It is recommended one signs up for at least three sessions during the initial treatment. Each treatment session can cost from U.S.$60 to U.S.$200.

Criticisms of Colon Hydrotherapy

Critics have charged that colon hydrotherapy is nothing but a scam, an expensive enema. (An enema is a procedure to introduce liquids into the rectum and colon through the anus. Enemas are usually performed as a treatment for constipation.) Critics have focused on the potential harms of colon hydrotherapy, as follows:

  • Abscesses caused by too much water injected into the colon
  • Rectal perforation as a result of the speculum and other tubes inserted into the anus
  • Electrolyte imbalance due to water washing out the colon's electrolytes
  • Unnecessary washing away of the beneficial bacterial living in the colon (these bacteria are required for food digestion)
  • Using too much water for the procedure
  • Unnecessarily costly

Critics have suggested that people should simply try enemas or oral laxatives if they do not want any invasive procedure done on them. Colon-hydrotherapy critics have encouraged people to drink more water and eat more food with dietary fiber (e.g., fruits and vegetables). Critics also argued that since people lose electrolytes during the flushing out of wastes in the colon, one must replenish the lost electrolytes after colon hydrotherapy.

The critics of colon cleansing often challenged the idea of "autointoxication" and that they argued, "still to this day, direct observations of the colon through surgery and autopsy find no hardening of fecal matter along the intestinal walls." Another critic said that this colon-cleansing idea is based on treating the intestines as a "sewage system and that constipation, although never specifically defined, resulted in a cesspool within the body where food wastes would putrefy, become toxic, and get reabsorbed through the intestines. Some scientists also claimed that constipation caused fecal matter to harden onto the intestinal walls for months or years, blocking the absorption of nutrients (yet somehow not blocking toxins)."

Contrary to some critics, according to the National Institutes of Health in the United States, there is a legitimate medical problem called fecal impaction, or impaction of the bowels, which is a large mass of dry, hard feces that can develop in the rectum due to chronic constipation and that this hard mass is so hard that it cannot exit the body. Watery stool from higher in the bowel may move around the mass and leak out, causing soiling. As we know, one of the primary functions of the large intestine is the absorption of water and salt; if there is hardened residual fecal matter in the colon, then it is likely that water reabsorbed by the intestine will be of somewhat toxic and putrefied liquid which has the hard, dried feces soaked in it.

Alternatives to Colon Hydrotherapy

The practitioners of colon hydrotherapy believe that chronic constipation and a lack of dietary fiber in daily diet can result in accumulated, hardened, and dried feces in the colon. This buildup of mass of toxins in the body can adversely affect one's health—especially in older people. Therefore, it is important to regularly flush the colon to eliminate the rock-hard feces stuck to the lining of the walls of the large intestine. Mainstream medicine, however, has mocked this belief.

Regardless of who is correct in this medical debate, experts believe that a generally healthy lifestyle can reduce chronic constipation and the need for colon cleansing. For example, simple lifestyle changes can eliminate the need for colon cleansing, as follows:

  • Exercise—Regular exercise is extremely important in establishing regular bowel movements. Walking, jogging, swimming, aerobics, weight training, martial arts, and any other type of physical exercise is beneficial to regular bowel movements. For wheelchair-bound and bed-ridden people, regular physical movements, especially abdominal-contraction exercises and leg raises can still be done.
  • High-Fiber Diet, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables—A high-fiber diet is critical to building bulk to the stool, thus promoting regular bowel movements. One should also eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables can also promote other aspects of health, in addition to promoting regularity.
  • Drink Plenty of Pure Water—One must drink approximately 2 liters of pure water daily. A primary function of the large intestine is to reabsorb water; if the body is dehydrated, then the colon will reabsorb large amounts of water from pre-feces, drying and hardening the feces. Dried and hardened feces will be difficult to expel from the body. Hence, it is important to drink plenty of water to facilitate the elimination of metabolic solid wastes from the body. With these three simple lifestyle changes, one will not be afflicted by chronic constipation, thus eliminating the need for expensive colon hydrotherapy altogether. In short, one doesn't have to pay hundreds of dollars to cleanse one's colon in three to five colon-hydrotherapy sessions. The best colon-care product is free: pure water.

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