Hydrotherapy of the colon, also known as colonic cleansing or irrigation, involves using water to flush waste out of the large intestine.
The colon is the large intestine, and it absorbs water and salts from waste material that has traveled through the body.
Bacteria in the colon break down the remaining material, which then exits the body through the rectum and anus.
Some people believe that hydrotherapy can cleanse the colon, and the Association of Registered Colon Hydrotherapists (ARCH) refer to the procedure as simple, safe, and convenient.
However, scientific evidence does not support colonic hydrotherapy as a way to cleanse the body or improve health.
Practitioners of alternative medicine may tout the benefits of colonic irrigation, but no research-based evidence supports their claims.
A person may hear that hydrotherapy of the colon helps with:
Some practitioners of hydrotherapy suggest that it can help people lose weight, but there is no evidence of this.
After undergoing the procedure, a person may find that they have lost a few pounds, but this results from losing water and fecal matter — a temporary condition.
Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
This is based partly on a 2016 study that included only 18 participants, who reported improved IBS symptoms after colonic irrigation.
Among the improved symptoms were abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea, and the participants also reported feeling more satisfied with their bowel movements and less disturbed by their symptoms.
It is important to highlight, however, that this study was very small and included no control group. The researchers acknowledge the need for further studies including placebos and larger studies that investigate the long-term effects, including those on the quality of life.
In the early 1900s, a theory that bacteria in the colon cause toxins to leak into the rest of the body gained popularity. This theory, called autointoxication, was soon debunked.
However, it remains a basis for the belief that colonic irrigation can help detoxify the body. In fact, the body has organs to serve this specific purpose — the liver and kidneys.
Cleansing before surgery
Adequate cleaning is important to ensure that diagnostic and surgical procedures involving the large intestine are reliable.
The accuracy and safety of such procedures — such as colonoscopy — often depend on thorough cleansing of the colon. Hydrotherapy can serve this purpose.
However, there are other, safer ways to cleanse the colon, including dietary changes and the ingestion of prescribed solutions.
Anyone undergoing a procedure or surgery should receive detailed instructions about how to prepare from their doctor.
Colonic irrigation involves inserting the nozzle of a device into the rectum to send water into the colon.
A person can control the pressure and temperature of the water, and the entire procedure usually takes around 45 minutes.
Approximately 16 gallons of water pass through the bowel, and the fluid may contain herbal infusions or coffee. These supposedly offer additional benefits, though there is little, if any, evidence of this.
According to ARCH, modern colonic hydrotherapy flushes out the whole large intestine, unlike an enema.
Health insurance does not cover hydrotherapy of the colon because it is an elective procedure.
Prices vary, depending on location, but each session is likely to cost at least $45. A person may find deals on some group-buying websites.
- stomach pain and cramping
- fullness and bloating
- dizziness, nausea, and vomiting
- anal irritation and soreness
More severe complications of hydrotherapy of the colon can include:
Below, learn about other reported adverse effects of colonic irrigation:
One risk is infection, either due to unsterile equipment or equipment that allows fecal matter to flow backward into the colon.
Infection can also stem from the removal of healthful bacteria. Scientists have yet to fully explore the ways in which colonic irrigation may cause an imbalance in the microbiome.
Forcing water into the colon can injure it — the pressure can damage the wall of the colon, causing it to tear. This issue, called a perforated bowel, is a medical emergency.
Symptoms may begin with fever, pain, chills, and nausea. The body may then develop sepsis, an extreme response to an infection that can be fatal.