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Colon hydrotherapy, also known as colonic irrigation, is an alternative medical procedure, sometimes associated with naturopathy. Similar to an enema, it involves the introduction of large amounts of water, sometimes infused with minerals or other materials, into the colon using a tube and syringe inserted into the rectum. The fluid is removed after a short period, and the process will be repeated multiple times during the course of a treatment. A colema is a type of colon hydrotherapy performed by oneself using a bucket with an attached hose, while lying on a board positioned over a toilet, into which the contents of enema are released. Though colon hydrotherapy, colemas and enemas all have features in common, there are some significant differences between the modalities in terms of depth of colon cleansing, amount of water used, and the necessity for a practitioner to be present.
The practice has been known since ancient times for treating constipation which was believed to have been the root of many diseases and illnesses. The first recorded reference to colon cleansing date back more than 3000 years to the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical document. This document outlines bowel and colon cleansing procedures using various herbal concoctions and water, and has been carbon dated to between 1500 and 1700 B.C.In some cases, colon bypass or a colectomy was done.
Current practitioners recommend it for a variety of ills stemming from accumulation of fecal matter in the large intestine, a process referred to as autointoxication. Some alternative medicine practitioners believe that autointoxication results from increased absorption of bacterial / fungal toxins as a result of an increased toxic load in the colon.
While some hydrotherapists believe colonics lead to better overall wellness, others claim it helps specific diseases, including chronic fatigue, arthritis, and sinusitis. It is also claimed to improve muscle tone in the colon, leading to stronger peristaltic contractions.. There is limited scientific research to back these claims and the theory of autointoxication is not recognized by the medical establishment.
In the early 1980s, there were a number of cases of amebiasis spread by a colon therapist in Colorado who failed to maintain sanitary conditions. It is believed to be the sole documented case of colon hydrotherapy having caused a fatality. There have been reports of electrolyte imbalances in children brought on by colonics using softened water. Such imbalances can also be caused by laxative use or diarrhoea.
Colonics are inappropriate for people with serious bowel pathology such as ulcerative colitis or other types of colitis, where there is a risk of bowel perforation if the pathology.
The practice is currently only regulated in some states of the United States so there is no system in that country to track adverse events from the practice. Some practitioners go through a voluntary certification process, and may be members of one of the colon hydrotherapy associations worldwide.
The American College of Gastroenterology takes the position that in the unusual case of fecal impaction complicating chronic constipation, a 5 to 10 ounce tap water enema may be of benefit, but does not otherwise recommend its use. The orthodox medical establishment perceives colon hydrotherapy to be little more than a bowel rinse, or expensive laxative.
The typical cost for a colonic is about $65 to $80 in the US. In comparison, a 30 ml (1 ounce) dose of Oral Phospho-soda or a bottle of Magnesium Citrate will give effective laxative effects at a cost of approximately $2. All saline laxatives should be used with care as complications of electrolyte levels can develop with use, especially if dosage recommendations are exceeded or if underlying medical problems exist. The safety of Colon hydrotherapy in the conditions that increase the risk of complications with oral laxatives has not been established.