What is Colonic Irrigation?

Colonic irrigation is a procedure in which very large quantities of liquids are infused into the colon via the rectum through a tube, a few pints at a time, in an effort to wash away and remove its contents. CI differs from an ordinary enema which involves infusing a lesser amount of liquid into the rectum only. A "high colonic" may involve the use of twenty or more gallons pumped by a machine or transmitted with an apparatus that relies upon gravity to achieve its purpose.

Liquids used in colonics may include coffee, herbs, enzymes, wheatgrass extract, or many other substances. Proponents of the procedure advertise that "all disease and death begin in the colon," that colonics "detoxifies" the body, and that regular "cleansing" is necessary to maintain one's health. None of these claims are true.

The idea that all disease and death begin in the colon is one of the oldest health misconceptions known to humankind. The ancient Egyptians associated feces with decay, and decay with death.

In the 19th Century, the intestinal toxicity theory became popular. The idea was that poisons from petrifying intestinal bacteria entered the body through the gut wall. Constipation was to be avoided. Numerous remedies were advocated by the health gurus of the day. Yogurt was said to create a friendlier form of bacteria. Bran was advocated for "roughage" to speed up the elimination process. The folk saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" is rooted in the idea of increasing roughage. Hydropaths advocated drinking large amounts of water to wash out the alimentary canal from above. John Harvey Kellogg performed surgery to reshape the colon for more rapid elimination. The laxative industry grew prosperous on the idea of bowel "regularity."

Today we understand more clearly the importance of dietary fiber, hydration, and so forth. Medical scientists also know that these have nothing to do with intestinal toxicity. Early in this century a medical researcher produced all of the symptoms of constipation (dry mouth, lethargy, etc) by packing the rectum with sterile cotton. Studies done in the 1920s found that "high colonic irrigations" were useless and did not even reach very high even when fairly long tubes were employed. Studies in the 1930s found that colonic irrigation was contraindicated for treating ulcerative colitis, an intestinal disorder which did permit bacterial contamination of body through the gut wall. In 1985, the Infectious Disease Branch of the California Department of Health Services stated:
"Neither physicians nor chiropractors should be performing colonic irrigations. We are not aware of any scientifically proven health benefit of this procedure, yet we are well aware of its hazards."

The hazards include illness and death by contamination of colonics equipment and death by electrolyte depletion . In addition to the physiological upsets, colonic apparatus can also perforate the intestinal wall leading to septicemia (bacterial contamination of the blood), a very serious disorder.

Colonic irrigation should be considered a health fetish. The ideas of "cleansing" and "detoxification" have no physiological significance, but they do have emotional meaning to people who believe themselves to be "unclean" or "impure" in some way. Just as the ancient Egyptians did, health neurotics may temporarily relieve their health anxieties by colonics, laxatives, and purges. //William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.