Hydrocolon cleansing, or colon irrigation, is an alternative therapy used for detoxification. The procedure involves using water, herbal solutions and enzymes to eliminate toxins in the gastrointestinal system. Hydrocolon cleansing is not a substitute for medical treatment; consult with your health care provider to discuss any potential risks.
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A colonic hygienist or a colon therapist administers hydrocolon cleansing, which generally lasts approximately 45 to 60 minutes. You will generally have multiple appointments to achieve optimal benefits. During the procedure, a practitioner inserts a tube through the rectum and into the colon. A gravity-driven machine pumps water into the large intestines, while the therapist massages your abdomen to help remove the waste material collected on the wall of the colon. The eliminated waste exits the body through another tube.
Colon therapy dates back to ancient Egyptian times and was used as a “cleansing ritual” to eliminate the toxins in the body believed to cause disease and death, according to the American Cancer Society, or ACS. In the 19th century, the theory of "autointoxication" gained momentum, and laxatives, purges and enemas gained popularity as a means of removing the accumulated waste from the large intestines. In the 1920s to 1930s, the use of hydrocolon cleansing grew in the United States with the modernization of irrigation machines in the health-care facilities.
Hydrocolon cleansing may be beneficial if you are scheduled for a colonoscopy, or colon surgery. A study done in 1989 by Dr. Jack DiPalma, a professor of medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, states that colon cleansing, when using a polyethylene glycol-electrolyte lavage solution, is safe, well-tolerated and provides adequate cleansing in patients who require it prior to a medical procedure.
Dr. Michael Picco, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, mentions that although supporters of hydrocolon cleansing believe toxins in the gastrointestinal tract contribute to health problems such as arthritis, allergies and asthma, limited clinical studies disprove the benefits of removing these toxins through colon cleansing. Picco adds that the body will naturally eliminate the waste material and bacteria, eliminating the need for such procedures.
As with all therapies, side effects are possible and include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, discomfort, cramps and infection. If you have kidney or heart disease, the increase of fluids introduced into your body may cause electrolytic imbalances, causing severe dehydration. Prior to undergoing the procedure, you should ensure the equipment used is sanitary to prevent infections.
The digestive system functions to remove waste material and toxins from your body naturally. During the procedure, a potential risk of the body absorbing the substances through the walls of the colon is possible and may cause a toxic or allergic reaction. The ACS reports that you have an increased risk of bowel injury with pre-existing conditions such as diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and tumors in the rectal or colon area or if you are recovering from recent bowel surgery.
In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved colonic irrigation machines for routine use and forbids practitioners from making unsubstantiated claims without proven clinical studies.