What is the history behind it?
As far back as the ancient Egyptians, enemas and other “cleansing rituals” were commonly used to rid the body of waste products believed to cause disease and death. In the 19th century, proponents described the large intestine as a sewage system and claimed stagnation caused toxins to form and be absorbed by the body, which led to the theory of "autointoxication." Laxatives, purges, and enemas were routinely recommended to prevent the accumulation of waste.
Colon therapy became very popular in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, when irrigation machines were commonly found in hospitals and physicians' offices. Although the procedure became less popular when advances in science and medicine did not support its founding theory, colon therapy has recently shown an increase in popularity.
In 1985, the California Department of Health Services issued a statement that listed some of the potential hazards of colon therapy, including infection and death from contaminated equipment, death from electrolyte imbalance, and perforation (puncture) of the intestinal wall leading to life-threatening infection or death.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally considers colonic irrigation machines to be Class III devices, except for those sold for medically-needed colon cleansing (such as before an x-ray or colonoscopy, which are Class II devices). Unless state law says otherwise, a person buying such a machine is required to be licensed to prescribe colonic irrigation. The irrigations themselves are supposed to be prescribed and supervised by a health care provider licensed by the state. The FDA forbids practitioners and sellers from making claims about their services that have not been proven in scientific studies. The FDA has warned several companies to stop making such claims. No colonic irrigation machine or system has been approved for routine use.
What is the evidence?
Available scientific evidence does not support the claims on which colon therapy is based. It is known that most digestive processes take place in the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed into the body. What remains enters the large intestine, where it passes to the rectum for elimination after water and minerals are extracted. Available scientific evidence does not support the premise that toxins accumulate on intestinal walls or that toxicity results from poor elimination of waste from the colon.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
The machines used for colon therapy are illegal unless used during conventional medical treatment. Illness and even deaths have resulted from contaminated equipment, electrolyte imbalance, or perforation of intestinal walls. People with diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, severe hemorrhoids, rectal or colon
tumors, or who are recovering from bowel surgery may be at higher risk of bowel injury. People with kidney disease or heart failure may be more likely to experience fluid overload or electrolyte imbalances. If compounds such as coffee or herbs are added, remember that many substances can be absorbed into the body through the colon walls and cause toxic or allergic reactions. Colon therapy can also cause discomfort and cramps. Equipment must be adequately disinfected between uses to prevent infections being transmitted from one client to another.
Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer, may have serious health consequences.
To learn more
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site ( www.cancer.org ) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
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Eisele JW, Reay DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas. JAMA. 1980;244:1608-1609.
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Handley DV, Rieger NA, Rodda DJ. Rectal perforation from colonic irrigation administered by alternative practitioners. Med J Aust. 2004 Nov 15;181(10):575-576.
Mishori R, Otubu A, Jones AA. The dangers of colon cleansing. J Fam Pract. 2011 Aug;60(8):454-457.
Norlela S, Izham C, Khalid BA. Colonic irrigation-induced hyponatremia. Malays J Pathol. 2004 Dec;26(2):117-118.www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=876.5220 on May 4, 2012.
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.