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My Colonic

I know. You’re thinking, “Do I really need to read about Dr. E’s colonic irrigation this morning, sitting here with my latte and bran muffin?”

Well, I haven’t written anything about colonics for quite awhile, but recently I learned the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation (DPR) wants to close the offices of the dozen or so colonic practitioners in our otherwise impeccable state. Since enemas, colon cleansing, and colon irrigation therapy (also called high colonics) have been on the alternative therapy menu for decades and the complications are virtually zero, one  wonders about this burst of bureaucratic zeal.

The DPR, under the directive of the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS), usually bangs the public safety drum when it wants to shut down a particular practice, as it did two decades ago when the ISMS and DPR tried to quash acupuncture in Illinois by threatening acupuncturists with felony arrests. Seventy years ago the target was chiropractors, 150 years ago homeopaths, and 300 years ago (in Salem, Massachusetts, not Illinois) witches. After years of expensive lobbying, Illinois now licenses acupuncturists instead of arresting them. However, it’s unlikely the handful of colon therapists practicing here have the political clout to endure this process.

So one morning I was chatting amiably with my colon therapist, trying to get my mind off whatever she was doing with her right hand. I was lying on my side, bare-bottomed but modest and warm beneath a bed sheet. A rubber hose snaked its way from an interesting piece of plumbing, traveling under the sheet and into me. I heard, rather than felt, water being gently pumped into my lower abdomen, then had my tummy rubbed a bit (Proustian flashback: me, age three, giggling wildly at this), and finally felt the water pressure reverse itself and get flushed into a separate unit that emptied into the city sewer system. One section of the exit hose was clear plastic so the therapist could examine my intestinal contents. She clucked her approval, “Good results here…very good.”

I wondered to myself, “Here’s a woman who enjoys her work, believes in what she’s doing, and likes helping people. From the look of her office, she has satisfied clientele. What’s the big deal from the DPR?”

History of colon irrigation
Although first recorded by the ancient Egyptians in 1500 BC, the practice of regular colon irrigation began just over 100 years ago and reached its peak in popularity during the 1920s, when colon irrigation devices in physician offices were as ubiquitous as EKG machines today. Yes, you folks at the DPR, colon hydrotherapy (as it was then called) was mainstream medicine, recommended for a variety of symptoms beyond the digestive tract, including fatigue, arthritis, and even schizophrenia.

The theory behind colon irrigation is what’s called autointoxication. Fecal material contains not only the final products of digestion and more than 100 trillion bacteria, it also holds a variety of chemicals created as the food you’ve eaten (sorry about this) rots inside you. Advocates of colon irrigation believe that unless regular and “easy” bowel moments keep these putrefactive (decaying) chemicals from entering your body, they can become toxic and cause all sorts of mischief. The real problem starts when a low-fiber, high-meat diet keeps stools glued to our intestinal walls for extended periods.

Conventional gastroenterologists dismiss all this as utter nonsense and say colon irrigation doesn’t even merit scientific discussion. The intestinal lining, they maintain, is an adequate barrier against the absorption of putrefactive toxins. I would counter this hubris by reminding them that the intestinal lining is an extension of our skin. Look right now at your lower lip—the place where external skin becomes internal skin (as it does at the other end of your digestive tract).

Gastroenterologists acknowledge that a variety of chemicals–some good, some bad–are absorbed through the skin. They also agree that the purpose of our small intestine is to absorb literally everything. There’s little reason to believe at the junction where the small intestine becomes the large–in this one section of internal skin–there’s a sign posted saying “nothing absorbed beyond this point.”

Any primary care doctor can tell you that chronically constipated people complain of headaches, sluggishness, low-grade nausea, bad breath, and fatigue (sounds toxic to me), and that they feel much better with regular bowel movements.

During the peak in colon therapy popularity, it was thought that virtually any chronic illness carried some component of this self-poisoning process, and that by detoxifying the colon (via irrigation, eating a high-fiber diet, or taking detoxifiers like bentonite clay) good health could be restored. One irrigation advocate from the 1920s was John H. Kellogg, MD, developer of the breakfast cereals. He had his own hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, and would even recommend removal of portions of the colon in “difficult cases.” I immediately regret using the phrase “would even” as if to shock you. I’ve had several patients suffering chronic constipation due to unusually long, tortuous large intestines enjoy complete cure after surgical shortening.

Plus, many patients report that they finally feel well after the ultimate colon cleanse—preparing for a colonoscopy.

A role for preventing colon cancer?
The autointoxication theory was “disproven” by conventional physicians during the 1940s and never looked at again. I deliberately place that word in quotation marks because the articles I’ve reviewed from nearly 70 years ago sound more like angry opinion than scientific studies.

Actually, some theories are never completely disproved, but rather temporarily abandoned for a few decades until someone comes up with evidence to the contrary.

One area in which colonic detoxification is intriguing involves colon cancer prevention. We know that this cancer is more prevalent among meat eaters, especially those whose diet contains lots of processed or charcoal-grilled meats. Conversely, colon cancer is very rare among vegetarians and vegans. Meat eaters are a constipated lot. Their small, compact stools can press against the intestinal lining for days before elimination. Perhaps the poisons of 19th century autointoxication are the colon carcinogens of the 21st century.

Briefly, back to history: With the end of autointoxication theory in the 1940s, colonic irrigation devices disappeared from MD offices and began appearing in those of chiropractors and naturopaths, and in the 1970s in free-standing colon irrigation centers.

Having a colonic by a trained therapist is quite safe, certainly a lot safer than the overdone colonoscopy (I do recommend them—I just believe they’re done a bit too frequently for safety).

How does it feel to have a colonic?
If you’re curious, I can report the whole procedure is quite benign and gentle. Certainly nothing like a ghastly hospital enema or a re-enactment of that childhood nightmare involving Mom approaching you, face in a frozen smile, in one hand a strange-looking hot water bottle and in the other a hose, pointed at your tush.

The entire colonic apparatus is self-contained. Filtered water is pumped gently into your intestine through one part of the tube and then the pump is reversed, the soiled water evacuating separately into a drainage tank. You remain comfortably on your side or back as the process is repeated several times to remove the accumulated, stagnated waste lining your colon and detoxify your intestines.

Minimal water is left behind—you’ll have no mad dash to the nearest toilet or leakage onto your DKNY beige suit.

After my own colonic, throughout the rest of the day I felt just generally healthier, that intuitive sense you have when you know you’ve done something right for your body. It’s similar to the feeling you get after a good workout, a massage, or a sauna, but internally.

So it’s time to rethink the whole concept of colon irrigation and autointoxication. What’s really unscientific? State “investigators” acting at the behest of the medical establishment to padlock the doors of the colon therapists of Illinois.

Okay, back to your muffin and latte.

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD


Leave a Comment

  1. Rita Starr says:

    Thank you for this excellent article. I have had colonics and find that I feel terrific after getting one. Several times I have started to get the flu or bad cold after eating poorly for several days. I have experienced almost immediate recovery after getting a colonic. Runny nose dries up, cough goes away.

  2. Peggy Wolf says:

    This is a GREAT article! Wonderful Dr. E. Thank you. In fact, I am gong to schedule myself for one at your office. I know I need it. Thank you, as always, for your expertise, and wisdom and helping us all become healthier people!
    Blessings, Peggy 🙂

  3. Dr E says:

    Hi Peggy
    Unfortunately, we’re not set up in our office for colonics (the plumbing is actually quite complex) but there are likely some colon therapists still in town who haven’t been closed up by the regulators

  4. JasonMChicago says:

    Great article on a great health procedure that everyone (disease or not-diseased-yet) should be doing. Colonics were very important to regaining my health.

    I personally don’t follow the guidelines of any of these agencies. The only respectable agency in my opinion is the Organic Consumer Association (OCA). The rest limit client access to good food, water, and healthcare.

  5. Mery Krause says:

    Can’t wait to try a colonic. I think it will feel as good as when you walk out of the dentist office after getting your teeth cleaned. At least, I hope it feels that good, cause I love that feeling. Happy New Year Dr. Edelberg.

  6. joanne says:

    Good article showing the goodness of colonics. There is another side, also. If people have colonics twice a week or every week, their bowels slow down and don’t help themselves as efficiently. They become dependent on colonics. Every once in a while is great, but not too often.

    Used to receive colonics regularly and found this to be true. Also found others who backed away for the same reason.

    If your colonics person doesn’t promote coming in constantly, and you listen to your body wisely, colonics could be wonderful.

  7. Mary Taylor says:

    Always look forward to your articles. Yes, even this one. Are there any therapists who you would recommend for such treatment?

    Happy New Year!

  8. Nalliah Thayabharan says:

    Virtually all diseases are either caused by, or severely complicated by autointoxication which occurs when the body absorbs too much of its own toxic waste. Autointoxication is the outcome of an imbalanced diet, faulty bowel function, or an accumulation of metabolic wastes and is the root cause of many disorders and illnesses.

    Disease most often starts in the large intestine, or colon. The colon is a muscle that has two basic functions: it moves along digested matter; and rehydrates the blood supply. Bulk waste is pushed out of the body, and the remaining water is recycled into the bloodstream. When we consume denutured, over-processed foods, they act like glue when they become dehydrated and then adhere to the colon wall. This matter begins to putrefy, feeding unwanted bacteria, and compromising our health.

    If waste cannot be eliminated and is allowed to accumulate in the body -perhaps suppressed by drugs or extreme tiredness and fatigue- disease sets in. Bacteria and acidic wastes accumulate, causing the body’s pH to go from an 80% alkaline state to as much as an 80% acidic state. When the body’s pH is balanced, it is an unfavorable environment for most pathogens. It is only when our bodies have a highly acidic state that disease can get a foothold.

    Our bodies deal with disease on a daily basis by throwing off all foreigh invaders. It is only through our lifestyle choices that our bodies become overburdened, allowing both disease and the aging process to accelerate. It is our choice to consume over-processed foods, with little or no life to them, or to maintain an acid-forming diet. It is also our choice to carry around unpleasant thoughts and emotions that stop paristalsis – the natural movement of the intestines. Even slight anxiety, annoyance, apprehension, or ill temper will stop all movement of the intestines, promoting a diseased state.

    Some people are chronically constipated because of a state of ill will or anger. Grief shuts up the outlet of the body’s system as tightly as does fear. The worried colon neither secretes not contracts. Both actions are needed – secretions for lubrication and contractions for transportation of waste. Chronic stress from any cause can and will render the colon dysfunctional, promoting autointoxication.

    When the bowel is under active, toxic wastes are absorbed through the bowel wall into the bloodstream. The blood the circulates these toxins to every part of the body and deposits them in tissues. The greatest amounts of toxins are retained in the constitutionally weakest tissues. If any other elimination organ is compromised (lungs, kidneys, skin, or lymph), more wastes are retained in the body. As these toxins accumulate, alterations in cellular function take place and organs begin to malfunction. In addition, as our ability to digest deteriorates, partially-digested material starts to putrefy, furthering the toxic accumulation. Degenerative disease states are a definite sign that toxic settlements have accumulated in specific organs or systems. When this happens, chronic inflammation sets in, further promoting a diseased state.

    When the body is overwhelmed by toxic accumulations as a consequence of fatigue or poor circulation, proper oxygenation cannot take place in the tissues. Without oxygen, the body loses energy and cannot throw off toxins, which is why sick people are always tired. The more tired we get, the greater the buildup of toxins, which furthers the cycle.

    Organs & body systems are directly affected by our lifestyles, so it naturally follows that if we want to improve our health we have to first look at our lifestyles.

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