Proposed colonic benefits include gut detoxification, increased energy levels, better bowel movements, and relief for acne, headaches, and allergies (just to name a few).
The scientific evidence to back up these claims is scarce to nonexistent.
Colonics for constipation are more of a “quick fix” and probably shouldn’t be relied on for long-term relief.
Colon hydrotherapy, enemas, and transanal irrigation come with a profile of potential risks, including tears in the bowel lining, electrolyte imbalances, and infections.
Diet changes and gut-healing supplements, like probiotics, are safer and likely more effective for healing your gut and resolving your chronic health symptoms.
As the link between a healthy gut and our overall well-being becomes more appreciated, many healthcare trends are now targeting the digestive tract. Namely, colon hydrotherapy has become somewhat of a “cure-all” treatment in alternative medicine, but do colonic benefits live up to the hype?
Colonics are praised for their ability to detoxify the gut, boost the immune system, and combat numerous health complaints — treating everything from constipation and diarrhea to acne and allergies. We decided to get to the bottom of these claims, and took a deep dive into the research behind colon hydrotherapy.
Unfortunately, it appears that many of the colonic benefits may just be speculation, as the evidence on colon hydrotherapy is severely lacking. However, many people continue to find them helpful for their chronic health issues, which can likely be, in part, chalked up to the placebo effect.
Therapies that flush the colon, like colonics and transanal irrigation, may be effective for the short-term treatment of constipation, but aren’t recommended for long-term use in most cases. They provide more of an immediate, band-aid solution to chronic constipation, and when relied upon for long-term relief can mask the underlying cause, such as a poor diet or a “lazy bowel.”
As we wait to discover any health benefits of colonics, they probably aren’t the best place to start your healing journey. They come with a list of potential side effects (some being pretty serious), are often expensive, and can be time-consuming.
Revamping your diet and taking gut-healing supplements, like probiotics, are the safer and likely more effective options. But since colonics are likely a trend that’s here to stay, let’s get into the facts on colon hydrotherapy.
Colonic Benefits for Gut Health
We put our research team to the test in an attempt to find evidence for colonic benefits, but, unfortunately, an exhaustive review of the existing research shows little support for the health benefits of colon hydrotherapy.
One small study found that it may be helpful for resolving digestive issues in those with a prior history of radiation to the lower gastrointestinal tract , but this appears to be the extent of the scientific evidence on colonics.
Even the general idea of “colon cleansing” and colon detox diets is fairly unsupported and isn’t recommended in the medical literature [2, 3]. Many colon detox plans base their claims on an outdated and vague concept of “autointoxication,” or being poisoned by the contents of the gut [3, 4]. Unfortunately, this theory no longer holds up to medical scrutiny, and may leave you wondering if colonics are really the answer to your problems.
Those who support the use of colonic irrigation state that it promotes detoxification, can reduce your risk of colon cancer, and may be helpful for treating headaches, allergies, fatigue, and eczema. Other conditions believed to benefit from colon hydrotherapy include :
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Gas, bloating, and cramping
Skin disorders (like acne)
Desired weight loss
But if the research behind these claims is lacking, where’s the overwhelmingly positive support for colon hydrotherapy stemming from?
Why Colonic Benefits May Not Be What You Think
Just because the research on colon hydrotherapy is scarce, it doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from colonics. They may be based on an obsolete theory, but their benefits haven’t necessarily been directly disproven. Many people praise their positive effects for digestive health, and they’re often used to treat constipation and gut bacteria imbalances.
However, the placebo effect for any treatment is often higher in those with gut disorders like IBS, and IBS sufferers respond to placebo 27-45% of the time . This suggests that colonic benefits may be a prime example of mind over matter when it comes to healing your gut.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting benefit from a placebo treatment — it happens all the time and with good results. But colon hydrotherapy is a pretty invasive, expensive, and time-consuming way to find relief for your health concerns.
If you’re interested in harnessing the power of your mind to fix your gut, it may be best to give a more proven method, like meditation, a try.
Let’s take a deeper look into the proposed gut health benefits of colon hydrotherapy to see how they hold up.
Colonics for Dysbiosis
Colonics are frequently used to “reset” the gut microbiome after dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria) occurs. However, during colon hydrotherapy, water is only administered to the large intestine and stops short of the small intestine. As the small bowel is where intestinal dysbiosis frequently occurs, such as in the case of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), colon hydrotherapy may not be the best method for restoring the gut microbiome.
In fact, flushing the colon, like in the use of laxatives prior to a colonoscopy, can have a significant, negative impact on gut bacterial diversity and quantity . It stands to reason that colonics can strip the colon of both good and bad bacteria and may overall worsen a gut dysbiosis.
If you suspect that a gut bacteria imbalance is at the root of your symptoms, you may want to look into other safer, research-based treatments such as probiotics to get your gut biome back in check.
Colonics for Constipation
Constipation is another common culprit that drives people to seek out colon hydrotherapy. While there’s no research supporting the use of colonics for constipation, theoretically it could be helpful in the short-term as the procedure itself evacuates the contents of the bowels.
However, this is a palliative measure that only addresses constipation as a symptom and misses the underlying cause, such as a poor diet or a problem with gut motility. Colonics are probably best used as a last-resort solution for chronic constipation when diet changes and gut-healing supplements, like probiotics, fail to work.
What About Enemas and Other Irrigation Techniques?
There do seem to be some health benefits from other water delivery systems. Colonics are often confused with enemas, where a much smaller amount of water is introduced into the rectum, rather than the entire colon. They’re often used to self-administer medications or supplements (such as herbal teas) to the lower part of the large intestine.
Enemas containing herbal preparations may be effective in reducing symptoms of ulcerative colitis, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain [8, 9, 10]. However, research shows that the “coffee enema,” which has become popularized for its health-promoting effects, has no beneficial antioxidant effects  and may actually cause abdominal pain, bloody stool, bowel perforation, and infection [12, 13].
Transanal irrigation (TAI) uses a pump, rather than gravity, to flush the lower colon and rectal tissues with water in order to stimulate a bowel movement. TAI may be helpful for chronic constipation and fecal intolerance, especially for those with :
History of a bowel resection (removal of cancerous growth)
Spinal cord injuries
Constipation that’s unresponsive to treatment
Unlike colonics, enemas and TAI can be self-administered. However, it’s essential that you’re shown how to perform the procedure under the guidance of a healthcare professional to reduce the risk of side effects.
Why Colonic Benefits Don’t Outweigh the Risks
While colonic benefits are still being uncovered, we do have information on the potential harm that can occur from flushing out the digestive system. Colon hydrotherapy, enemas, and TAI all come with a risk of bowel perforation, especially when improperly administered. Water can tear a hole through the intestinal wall, allowing the contents of the bowel to leak into the abdominal cavity, which is a life-threatening condition.
While TAI is the most medically accepted and safest of these procedures, it still comes with risks. TAI shouldn’t be performed in those with severe diverticulosis, a build-up of fecal matter (stool impaction), active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or recent bowel surgery, as this increases your chance for bowel perforation .
As colonics flush significantly more water into the digestive tract than TAI and enemas, it likely comes with the highest risk for side effects. This is why we recommend that colon irrigation therapies are used as a last-resort method, after trying dietary and lifestyle changes, probiotics, and other gut-healing therapies.
Need Help With Your Gut? Here’s Where to Start
Colonics may not be the magic pill that we all have been searching for, but relief for your chronic health issues is still on the way. Changing up your diet to remove food sensitivities and reduce inflammation, along with taking probiotic supplements, is a great way to heal your gut and improve your overall health.
Focus on Your Diet
We recommend starting with the least restrictive elimination diet, such as the Paleo diet, that removes common food allergens. The Paleo diet helps lower chronic inflammation by eliminating common food triggers that provoke an immune system response, like dairy, gluten, soy, and sugar [16, 17].
Here are a few tips to get you the most out of your diet:
Be prepared: Have your pantry stocked with Paleo-friendly foods to make snacking and cooking as simple as possible. Food prepping is an excellent choice when getting used to a new diet, so when you’re in a pinch, you have something ready to grab.
Be as strict as possible: For the initial two to three weeks try to be as strict as possible so you can truly see if these dietary changes help improve your symptoms.
Reintroduce slowly: If your symptoms improve, begin introducing foods back into your diet slowly. Try starting with the food you missed the most, and be sure to wait three or four days before introducing another.
Try this out for two or three weeks to see if your symptoms improve before moving on to a stricter diet. If you don’t see any changes in your symptoms, it may be a sign that there’s an underlying problem, like gut dysbiosis, and a low FODMAP diet may be a better way to go.
It may take some time to get it right, so if you find yourself in need of assistance we have qualified healthcare providers at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine who can help you fine-tune your diet and reach your health goals.
Bring in Some Good Bacteria
Probiotics are well-known for their global health benefits and are an easy and effective way to reduce inflammation, restore the gut flora, and promote a healthy immune response [18, 19, 20]. These healthy bacteria have a wide array of digestive and other health benefits, and research shows they can help with the following conditions (just to name a few):
The vast health benefits of probiotics make them an easy, inexpensive, and popular choice for healing your gut and improving your overall well-being. Consider trying out these beneficial bacteria before moving onto a colonic. And if you decide to try out colon hydrotherapy, we recommend using probiotics after the treatment to restore your gut microbiome.
Many promote the gut-healing benefits of colon hydrotherapy and claim that it can treat anything from digestive issues, like constipation and dysbiosis, to fatigue and depression.
However, the research behind colonics is scarce, and most of these claims appear to just be anecdotal. Other bowel cleansing techniques, like transanal irrigation, have more scientific evidence to back them up, but they still come with a risk of side effects, like bowel perforation and gut infection. If you’re considering colon hydrotherapy to get relief for your chronic health conditions, you may want to wait before taking the plunge.
While colonics can be effective in the short-term for relieving digestive issues like constipation, it may miss the underlying cause. Try changing up your diet and look into taking probiotics to heal your gut and give your overall health a boost.
Having problems with your gut? We can definitely help you out. Reach out to our clinic to get assistance from one of our many qualified healthcare providers. If you prefer to take a do-it-yourself approach, my book Healthy Gut, Healthy You gives you simple steps on how to heal your gut and improve your overall health.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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