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Colon Hydrotherapy - The Modern Water Therapy with a Long Past

Jonathan Vellinga, MD -

Colon Hydrotherapy - The Modern Water Therapy with a Long Past

The superhighway of detoxifying the body flows through the lower end of the GI tract, the colon. The colon is the part of the large intestine between the small intestine and the rectum. After the extraction of nutrients in the small intestine, (mostly) digested matter floats in a mass of fluid, passing into the colon. The colon extracts water from the mass, eventually passing a more cohesive mass through the rectum and out the anus as stool.

Unfortunately, waste matter from food can have time to putrefy in the colon or create large, sticky masses that cling to the sides of the colon. The term "colon hydrotherapy" means "colon water therapy" and is one way to purge wastes that have lingered in the colon.

There is no other detoxifying pathway in the whole body that can expel as much waste as this path through the colon. However, sometimes certain health challenges warrant helping this detoxification mechanism along. Luckily for us, ancient techniques of washing the colon from the inside have been co-opted and modernized, much to the benefit of human health and wellness.

The History and Theory Behind Cleansing the Bowel

First, let’s look at the ancestor of modern colon hydrotherapy, the enema. An enema is the internal washing of the colon by introducing water into the colon to help wastes come out of the system. This process has been alluded to or described in detail in many ancient texts from many different cultures spanning all the continents.

One can imagine that constipation, where wastes have gotten bogged down in the lower bowel and not exited the body, has been around forever. The sensation of constipation is unpleasant, causing cramping, hemorrhoids, or even nausea. Someone at some point thought, “Let’s try getting some fluids in there from the other end to see if we can make everything come out and relieve this bad feeling.” Early theories proposed that the wastes being purged were the cause of illness, but to some ancient people, there was also a spiritual aspect. Releasing the wastes, the source of the illness, would “get the demons out,” so to speak. The fact that Egyptians regularly used enemas was confirmed by the Greek philosopher Herodotus, so we know this practice has been around since antiquity (1).

The various cultures who practiced enemas in earlier times used the tools at hand to assist in washing the bowels internally – pig bladders holding water attached to a hollow bone used to get past the rectum, or fluids poured through reeds inserted into the rectum, or hollowed-out gourds. Despite the seemingly painful tools, the practice of washing the colon has persisted to this day. Not only that, it was practiced for a variety of reasons, such as addressing general illness, unexplained illness, and even mental, spiritual, or emotional issues.

Enemas, particularly using coffee in enemas, gained popularity as a tool for fighting cancer when Max Gerson used them in the 1950s in the US. He wrote a book about it in 1958, entitled “A Cancer Therapy,” which is now in its 6th edition. Besides the mechanical assistance of flushing the lower bowel of wastes, using coffee as the liquid for an enema was thought to increase the production of bile, causing the ducts between the liver and gallbladder to purge, relieving the burden on those organs.

Colon Hydrotherapy is the Enema Brought Into the 21st Century

Colon hydrotherapy is the gentle introduction of water into the colon through the rectum to remove wastes from the bowel, using modern devices which allow a larger volume of fluid to be introduced into the colon. Colon hydrotherapy requires a special device and a trained practitioner to administer the therapy to the patient, this is not to be done at home. The additional water pressure is thought to cleanse more of the length of the colon than an enema and triggers stronger peristalsis (muscular contractions) of the colon than an enema. It is believed that the flow of water stimulates the muscles that perform the contractions around the colon, exercising them and building some muscle tone if done with regularity.

Features of Colon Hydrotherapy Devices

The temperature, pressure, and flow of the water can be controlled by the colon hydrotherapy device. Typically, highly filtered or distilled water is used as a base for the therapy, but some practitioners may offer additives that offer some specific health benefits. Most modern designs of colon hydrotherapy equipment have a feature that allows a person to see what wastes are removed. The exiting wastes go through a clear tube with a backlight. It is not unusual to see large colonies of yeasts, mucous, and undigested matter pass through. Large parasites may be seen, but most pathogens are too small to be observed with the naked eye. By far, the best feature of most modern colon hydrotherapy devices is that they are closed systems; the wastes are extracted without exposing them to air at the same time the water is introduced. The whole system is specially designed to be safe, comfortable, clean, and remove any odors during the procedure.

Safety Regulations

The FDA and the Code of Federal regulations govern colonic irrigation devices because they are considered medical devices. In the US, practitioners also have guidelines that are governed by the state – the number of hours of education, hours of internship, and a requirement of a certificate of completion. The certifying authorities for colon hydrotherapy are the National Board for Colon Hydrotherapy (NBCHT) and the Global Professional Association for Colon Therapy (GPACT). It is important to engage a qualified, certified practitioner who follows guidelines for cleaning and maintaining their equipment. Any procedure of this sort is not without possible issues, but guidelines are in place to minimize risks, and thousands of colon hydrotherapy appointments are done daily in the US (2).

What Can Colon Hydrotherapy Do?

Washing the bowel has many therapeutic actions. Anecdotally or through research, the following actions have been identified:

  • relieves constipation or slows diarrhea (IBS symptoms) (3)

  • stimulates peristalsis, works the muscles of the lower bowel, improves muscle tone

  • cleans the colon as a pre-colonoscopy requirement

  • reduces high yeast counts or bacterial overgrowth in the bowel (dysbiosis) (4), reducing the burden on the body

  • complement other detoxification strategies

  • relieve certain health conditions (listed below)