Paging Dr. Frischer - Colonics

A long-time patient recently informed me that was going to have a colonic.  Lacking enough knowledge to offer advice, I simply told her to be cautious, use common sense, and to let me know how it went.  With advice like that, it’s clearly time for me to get educated.  Let’s do it together. Also known as colonic hydrotherapy, a colonic therapist inserts a tube into the rectum and flushes water through the colon.  It has some similarities to an enema, but cleanses the entire length of the colon and involves multiple infusions of water.  The colon expels the water, pushing out any remnants of fecal matter along with it.  The process sounds uncomfortable, but generally is not.  It has been growing in popularity, but remains under scrutiny by the medical community.  Is it helpful or hurtful?

Practitioners of colonics believe that our bodies suffer under the strain of eating a highly processed diet, and that such a diet results in a clogged intestine.  They believe that the modern diet is difficult to digest, limited in fiber, and that our water intake is not enough to assist natural elimination.  They argue that the primary benefit of colonic therapy is to remove harmful bacteria, toxins, and debris from the colon that the body has not been able to pass naturally.  They also believe that colonics can help with weight loss due to improved elimination and nutrient absorption, and relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, chronic gas, nausea, and chronic fatigue.  Practitioners may recommend about four treatments per year, and that it be combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The purpose of the bowel is, indeed, to eliminate waste and toxins from the body.  Note that having as few as one bowel movement every three days or as many as three per day is considered to be normal.  The size and frequency depends on many factors including, most importantly, the amount of fiber in the diet.  Most doctors would argue that there is no additional need for colonic therapy.  Modern studies haven’t yet determined how important it is to clean the bowels of all bacteria, and whether it is really beneficial to remove the important healthy bacteria and then start over from scratch, growing new good and bad bacteria.  (Probiotics often accompany colonics to help restart the growth of helpful bacteria.)  Other concerns involve the lack of oversight and regulation in providing the therapy.  Materials and methodology can be as varied as are the number of practitioners.  There is no standard certification or licensure for a colonic therapist.  Is the unproven benefit worth the money and time?  Finally, colonics are not without risk - they put equipment into the body that could possibly introduce infection, and that could potentially damage or even perforate the colon.

Let’s face it: I was trained in Western medicine, and I look for evidence before recommending procedures that carry risks and costs.  Colonics are neither approved nor regulated by the FDA for treatment of any disorder or disease.  Given the lack of scientific support to date, my advice is to consult with your doctor before having a colonic, and to carefully evaluate the pros and cons.

Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.



Published: May 8, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 04