Ancient tradition of colonics poses possible benefits

Today, people are increasingly looking to holistic remedies, alternative medicine, and ancient practices like yoga and meditation for health answers and a sense of wellbeing. With such interest in health alternatives, many treatments are on the rise, including colonics. The city of Santa Monica alone has seven locations providing this form of therapy.

The first question for the uninitiated might be, what is a colonic?

In short, it’s when a fluid, most commonly sterile water, is introduced into the colon and lower intestine as a wash to remove the contents of the lower bowel. This practice dates back to 1500 B.C., when the ancient Egyptians would enlist a hollow reed and swift river water to illicit a similar effect.

Today, colonics are used for the obvious applications of relieving constipation, bloating, gas, and discomfort.

Alternative therapists also purport it can improve skin quality, energy levels, virility, encourage weight loss and work to detoxify one’s system while improving overall health. It is even discussed as preventative therapy for cancer, primarily colon cancer.

“Most people have the desired result,” said David Anderson, an employee of the Gentle Wellness Center of Santa Monica. “But it’s not a miracle. It takes work.”

A single colon hydrotherapy session lasts 45 minutes and on average costs $100. The recommended sessions for a thorough colon cleanse is three-to-four sessions in a seven-to-ten day period.

A common idea found in hydrotherapy literature, explained by Anderson, is that our colon walls harbor remnants from its work in the form of hardened fecal matter and mucus.

In the Gentle Wellness Center’s literature, it states, “Many of us have 10 to 20 pounds of impacted feces in our colon.” Such an explanation would account for the repetition needed in a complete cleanse.

Louretta Walker, a certified colon therapist, supported this claim, saying the goal is, “To move further and further into the colon.”

Mary Lynne Stephanou, professor of Life Science Anatomy and Physiology at Santa Monica College, was asked about colonic therapy, and its purported cleansing effects on the gastrointestinal tract.

“That just doesn’t happen with typical individuals,” said Stephanou.

Stephanou went on to explain that a healthy gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract, has a mucus lining which allows waste to move easily through the system.

“It’s a no stick surface,” professor of Anatomy Sandra Hutchinson said in support.

Hutchinson went on to explain that a concern about colonics is the possibility of disturbing the natural bacteria found in the GI tract. “Indigenous bacteria helps create vitamin K and B12 which would be washed away,” Hutchinson said.

Common risks associated with colonics are electrolyte imbalance, the removal of important bacteria, infections that could result from the use of contaminated water, and bowel dependence due to overuse of colonics or laxatives.

The use of something like a colonic is not unheard of in traditional medicine. Ida Danzey, Associate Dean of Health Sciences at SMC, explained that enemas are commonly used as prep for surgery and for cleansing the bowels.

Danzey's main concern was that of a “one size fits all” view.

Danzey explained that when administering an enema, the liters and type of fluid used vary depending on many factors, such as preexisting conditions and age. She hopes that similar practices are used by hydrocolon therapists.

When asked about the benefits of colonics, popular health expert Dr. Oz summed it up in an interview on a New York City radio station by saying, “There is no additional health benefit to getting a colonic over eating the right foods," said Oz. "So I give myself an oral colonic.”

Though a strange expression, this idea of maintaining a healthy system through good eating practices is one reiterated by most health professionals.

So while colonics can be a helpful method for many, what makes a truly healthy person begins with what goes in the mouth, not necessarily what goes in the other end.