Dangers of colon cleansing

Colon cleansing (aka colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy) works like an enema. The patient lies on a table and up to 60 liters of water (with or without herbs) are pumped through the rectum. Fluids and waste are expelled through a tube. The procedure may be repeated several times.

Researchers at Georgetown University School of Medicine, in Washington, DC, reviewed its use.

Here’s what we know.

  • Evidence validating colon therapy as a health practice is lacking.
  • Adverse effects range from mild (eg, cramping, abdominal pain, fullness, bloating, nausea, vomiting, perianal irritation, and soreness) to severe (eg, electrolyte imbalance and kidney failure).
  • Also reported:
    • Back and pelvic abscesses
    • Fatal aeroportia (gas accumulation in the mesenteric veins) with air emboli (blockage)
    • Rectal perforations
    • Perineal gangrene (below the pelvis and between the legs)
    • Acute water intoxication
    • Coffee enema-associated colitis and septicemia (blood infection)
    • Deaths due to amebiasis (intestinal infection caused by the parasite Entamoeba histolytica)

The bottom line?

The FDA requires that colonic hydrotherapy and irrigation system devices meet certain requirements. However, the agency has never approved any system for general nonmedical purposes, such as colon cleansing.

8/15/11 21:05 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.