Colon cleansing is a form of alternative medicine therapy that actually encompasses a number of different constituent therapies. It can be split into two basic types which may be used alone or in combination; colon hydrotherapy and oral colon cleansing.
Basically involves pumping water into the rectum so that it fills the colon and is expelled shortly after. This can be achieved using enemas at home or by visiting a practitioner who perfroms colonic irrigation (also known as colonics). Colonic irrigation uses greater volumes of water than can be achieved using enemas and the filling and draining of the colon is often repeated a number of times during each session.
Oral Colon Cleansing
Colon cleansing orally usually uses a combination of dietary modifications, fibre supplements (e.g. psyllium), herbs and nutritional supplements. The aim is the same as with colon hydrotherapy; to cleanse the colon of potentially harmful material.
Colon cleansing is a controversial therapy with most orthodox medical doctors dismissing it as useless and potentially harmful on one side and many alternative practitioners and individuals who routinely undertake the therapy enthusiastically reporting its purported benefits.
The therapy is based on the theory of "auto-intoxication" which was first proposed in the late 19th century which asserts that rotting (putrefied) faeces and toxins can accumulate in the colon and be absorbed by the body causing a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, headaches, mood disorders as well as digestive complaints. Colon cleansing is therefore proposed as means of cleansing the colon of this toxic material, improving bowel function and resolving other symptoms. Colon cleansing also aims to address colonic dysbiosis (disturbances in the balance of bacteria, yeast, parasites and other microorganisms) using antimicrobial supplements and probiotics.
Orthodox medicine points to a substantial amount of evidence acquired from autopsies and modern medical diagnostic techniques which have failed to show any signs of impacted faeces in the vast majority of people. It points out that the body is quite capable of removing waste material and keeping the colon clean without any help from colon cleansing therapies. This may well be the case in essentially healthy individuals but what of the chronically ill and those whose symptoms are unexplained by orthodox medicine?
Orthodox medicine is currently unable to fully explain conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and those of a more systemic nature such as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia. It also often tells us that auto-intoxication and gut dysbiosis have been soundly disproved despite a now substantial body of research that is showing the vital role that the bacteria, yeast and other microflora present in the gut play in health and disease. Disturbances in the gut microflora have been found in all three of the conditions given as examples and many others and toxins produced by certain members of the gut microflora are known to enter the blood stream and be involved in the development of disease.
Orthodox medicine also often argues that transit time is not important yet research evidence suggests otherwise. For example, sex hormones (e.g. oestrogens) detoxified by the liver and excreted into the intestines in bile can be "re-activated" by an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase produced by certain bacteria in the gut if their numbers are allowed to reach a high enough level. These active oestrogens can then be reabsorbed by the body or pass through the colon. Oestrogens are associated with the development of certain hormone-sensitive cancers including colon and breast cancers. Carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances are also present in processed foods which most of the developed world now lives on. Nitrates and nitrites used as preservatives in processed meats for example. Surely it is in the interests of health then to ensure all of these substances are removed from the body quickly and efficiently.
On the other hand many advocates promote colon cleansing as if it is a necessity for everybody to avoid ill-health or a treatment for any and every disease.
Perhaps colon cleansing in one form or another has a role to play as long as it is performed safely and possible adverse consequences are addressed.