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“”Know your enema.
A colonic is a preparation or procedure that removes waste products from the colon via purging, often referred to by proponents as doing a "cleanse." While the history of such procedures goes back thousands of years, current colonics are generally sold by non-physicians and make claims that are unproven or rest on bunk science.
Since the beginning of human medicine, healers have induced diarrhea in an attempt to "purge" the body of "ill humors." Before the advent of modern medicine this was a standard treatment. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, was the medical adviser to the Lewis and Clark expedition. He was one of the best known early American physicians, and popularly known for his "Rush's Pills" (aka Thunderclaps), which induced a rather violent and complete self-cleansing of the colon. Rush's Pills also contained calomel (mercurous chloride). Incidentally, Rush was big on bloodletting, too, and recommended removing 75% of the person's blood.
 Modern examples
Despite the lack of proof that these treatments have any benefit, they are still quite popular, with late-night television and internet advertising offering to separate the consumer from their stool and their money. The hallmark of these products is lack of proven efficacy and safety, and much higher cost than similar ingredients bought at the drug store.
 Psyllium husks
Several products are on the market under names like Colon Cleanse, which contain only psyllium fiber. Psyllium is also the active ingredient in over the counter laxatives such as Metamucil, and does add fiber to the diet. The psyllium products found in the health food store as "colon cleansing" products are usually more expensive than over the counter laxatives containing the same active ingredient. They may be useful for somebody suffering from constipation, or needing to add fiber to their diet, but there is no evidence for any additional health benefits in occasional use for general "cleansing the colon." A person should eat a high-fiber diet all the time, rather than going through a "colon cleansing" regimen once or twice a year, as its proponents suggest.
 Bentonite clay
Some products contain bentonite clay. This substance, when combined with Psyllium, absorbs colon liquid and stretches. This will result in the release of mucoid plaque, claimed to be a build up of natural mucus in the colon, but is really a substance that only appears if you consume the bentonite clay and psyllium. Please note that humans did not evolve to digest clay.
 Herbal teas
These contain a mixture of a variety of herbs purported to "cleanse" toxins from the body, and may contain herbs which do have a laxative effect, plus other herbs purported in natural remedies to "cleanse" the liver or kidneys in addition to the colon. Some of these, depending on the active ingredients, are effective as laxatives, but as with the psyllium products their only genuine usefulness is for somebody suffering from constipation. Some of them are just good tasting herbal teas.
 Salt water flush
The "salt water flush" is another purported colon-cleansing regimen. It involves drinking a quart or more of salt water, using sea salt (not table salt), first thing in the morning, then spending the next several hours near the bathroom while your "colon" is "cleansed." This practice is recommended in some alternative medicine regimens such as the Lemonade Diet as an alternative to enemas.
Not only is it gross but potentially very dangerous. If the salt water ingested is not isotonic (the same salinity as the human body, 9.0 g NaCl per liter of H2O) the hypertonic solution will dehydrate you as the human body ends up expending its own water to dilute the salt enough to prevent overloading the body with sodium. Consuming enough salt at once or depleting the body's water reserves can eventually overwhelm even this protective mechanism, resulting in hypernatremia (salt overload in the blood), which can cause seizures, cardiac arrythmia, and death. Do not do this.
 "Dual-Action Cleanse"
Familiar to American insomniacs and shilled by a mustashioed Steve Buscemi look-alike, this product purports to "tone and cleanse the colon while eliminating unnecessary toxic build-up." It contains such exotic ingredients as Psyllium fiber (Metamucil), Guar gum (used in many food products as an emulsifier, but here touted as "regulating glucose levels"), and Lactobacillus (the active culture in yogurt). It also contains Cascara sagrada, a bark-derived laxative first approved by the FDA in 1939, but that "is not generally recognized as safe and effective for OTC use...Any available OTC products containing cascara sagrada are to be considered misbranded. Many OTC products have already been discontinued by the manufacturers."
The two most likely ingredients in the Dual-Action cleanse to have a laxative effect are the psyllium fiber and the Cascara. The least expensive product offered by this company is $60.00, if you order it to be shipped monthly. As a comparison, generic psyllium capsules cost about $6.00 for 100 capsules, depending on the brand and formulation, and generic senna extracts (the closest equivalent to cascara) cost about $8.00 for 200 pills.
These products sell themselves with "testimonials" which tend to be vague. For instance, on their website, Dual-Action lists two separated customers as feeling "healthier and happier, wonderful".
The website does not seem to make the same claims of increased health as the TV infomercial. The spokesman for the product claims that toxins build up in the colon, as do food residues that reduce the caliber of the colon. These "facts" lead to all manner of illnesses. There are no studies showing any efficacy of colon purging. This product is essentially a very high-priced laxative and fiber supplement that perhaps could treat irritable bowel or constipation.
 Colon hydrotherapy
According to the "International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy, "the colon has been referred to as the sewer system of the body. It is the place where we store the waste material that most of us would rather not think about and most of us don't until our health becomes poor or we feel constipated or have diarrhea. It best benefits the body due to release of this accumulated congestion in the bowel."
Advocates of colonic hydrotherapy list many reasons for choosing to have colonics. According to one website: "parasites are man's deadliest enemy...they kill more people annually than cancers!" It is directly implied that colonics can help remedy this problem. They fail to mention that the parasites that kill so many people are not colonic parasites, but such diseases as malaria.
They also make the argumentum ad populum that many people subscribe to alternative therapies, therefore they must work.
According to the FDA, colonic irrigation systems are Class III devices that cannot be legally marketed except for medically indicated colon cleansing (such as before a radiologic or endocopic examination). No system has been approved for "routine" colon cleansing to promote the general well being of a patient.
Colon hydrotherapy is essentially unregulated, so practitioners can charge whatever they wish. Insurance does not pay. A typical cost would be about $100.00 for a session, compared to $2.39 for Fleet's osmotic laxative solution. These therapies are often offered along with other unproven treatments, like "manual lymphatic drainage" and "iridology". In fact, the waste passing through the colon has little to do with systemic disease. Most absorption of nutrients takes place in the small bowel, and what water is absorbed from the colon is essentially sterile.
Colon therapy has no benefits, and can cause harm. Colonic perforation and electrolyte imbalances can occur. Infection from improperly sterilized equipment (Giardia, C. difficle), and severe cramping can all occur. In addition, it may cause symbiotic bacteria in the colon to disappear, resulting in more diarrhea.
As therapy, colonics are pure bunk.
 Colonic irrigation as a sexual service
Some prostitutes offer colonic irrigation as an optional service. The prostitute typically dresses as a nurse for this purpose, and the client is masturbated as well as "cleaned out." This probably does no harm, provided that its done with proper precautions, but it's expensive. The client is liable to have his wallet cleaned out as efficiently as his lower bowel.
- Quackwatch on colonics.
- Mayo Clinic on colon cleansing.
- Scientific American podcast reports on how colon cleansing is a terrible idea.
- ↑ "Natural Colon Cleansing: Is It Necessary?" WebMD.
- ↑ 
- ↑ "What would happen to you if you drank seawater?" The Straight Dope. 2003 November 11.
- ↑ , His name is Klee Irwin.
- ↑ http://www.dualactioncleanse.com/Landing.aspx?CampaignID=1
- ↑ http://www.mdconsult.com/das/pharm/body/72789658-4/593521671/less/1234
- ↑ 
- ↑ http://www.colonhealth.net/colon_hydrotherapy/chtvital.htm
- ↑ http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/gastro.html
- ↑ http://www.serendipitychic.com/cleanse-prices.html
- ↑ http://www.healthycleansing.com/fees.html