On Good Bacteria, Enemas, And Your Health

Health Tips / On Good Bacteria, Enemas, And Your Health

In certain cultures, like middle class Jews growing up in Hyde Park in the 1950s, everyone remembers being chased through their home by a well-meaning mom armed with an enema bag. “Dr. Nachman said you needed this for a poopy!”

I am tearful, dressed only in whity-tighties until caught in the steel grip of my father, probably grateful he wasn’t next on the list.  I lose the battle, but since I’m right at Sigmund Freud’s anal stage of development, I probably lay still and rather enjoyed the experience. I simply don’t remember, which is just what Freud expected.

Decades later, when I was establishing what would ultimately become WholeHealth Chicago, I sampled just about every form of alternative therapy available at the time. During my encounter with colon therapy, comfortably lying on my side, a hose snaking upward from an irrigating pump, my tummy being gently massaged by my therapist, I thought…of mom.

Probiotic enemas

When I first encountered the research into using enemas containing probiotics, the whole thing made a lot of sense. With an enema, you’re simply inserting water into your rectum to clean it. A probiotic enema adds a small amount of powdered probiotic to the water. There are a lot of DIYs online, but here’s a good one.

Until recently, conventional medicine paid virtually no attention to the concept of good bacteria—probiotics—focusing its narrow-minded thinking solely on bad bacteria as the cause of most illnesses, battling them with the single tool in its arsenal: antibiotics.

Good-guy probiotics were highly suspect by MDs, since they were found in health food stores and the offices of clinical nutritionists, chiropractors, and naturopaths. Imbalances of intestinal bacteria (called intestinal dysbiosis) were so foreign to the conventional health care system that to this day, if a physician orders a test looking specifically for dysbiosis many health insurance providers will deny coverage, claiming it’s an unproven condition.

Our understanding of intestinal dysbiosis has changed dramatically over the past decade despite the deliberate reluctance of the insurance industry to keep abreast with the times. Read this piece for a solid overview. Scientists ultimately calculated the following, which still feels a little sci-fi to many of us:

  • There are 100 trillion bacteria (approximately 3 pounds!) in our intestines.
  • Bacteria represent from 1% to 3% of our entire body mass.
  • In terms of numbers, we carry ten times as many bacterial cells as human cells, each with its own genetics and metabolic system.

They named this living creature the gut microbiome. And when scientists recognized how many areas of the body were affected by it, they began to consider it a nearly separate functioning organ within the body.

Microbiome bacterial mix

A poor mix of bacteria in your microbiome can increase your risk for a diverse selection of conditions, including:

Testing the status of your gut microbiome
Currently the best test available (and at least partially covered by most insurance companies) is the GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile by Genova Diagnostics. WholeHealth Chicago patients can discuss this test with their physician, chiropractor, or any of our nutritionists and we can order the kit for you. If you’re not a WHC patient, your doctor can order it or you can contact Genova directly.

If your test results show that your gut microbiome is a train wreck, our nutritionists will guide you through the process of making it healthful again. We can even teach you how to self-administer your own probiotic enema so you won’t have to call your mother. My mother is, well, unavailable.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

33 thoughts on “On Good Bacteria, Enemas, And Your Health

    Now, all of this has me wondering.

    Am I wasting money buying over the counter probiotics??

    Carol A
    Posted January 8, 2024 at 8:57 am

    Forgot to tell…. I liked reading in your first paragraph “…remembering a well meaning mom … armed with an enema bag.”

    In our case it was a well meaning aunt armed with an enema bulb syringe. Don’t remember being chased by her with it in her hand 😀
    But, remember seeing her preparing everything and taken to the table. She told the same thing “doctor xxx says you need a good enema.”

    Being the oldest by 6 years I remember very well.

    Enemas were given for colds, flu, fevers, constipation, or even suspected constipated child, even to the moody, fussy, fighting, sluggish child.

    Wile complaining was the norm when told was going to get an enema or the oil then…I now believe it was good for us. Attribute my good health today to the oil and enemas.

    Carol A
    Posted January 7, 2024 at 2:37 pm

    Good article. Already passed it on to others.

    For giving a probiotic enema can I just go to the store and buy a bottle of probiotics? And use those in the enema water.

    Evie, also brought up in a catholic family. In a family of four kids and divorced mom. Back in those days more like an extended separation vs divorce.
    This was in the late 50 s .. early 60s. My nurse aunt and cousin moved in with us during her divorce.
    My aunt watched us when mom was working. She soon introduced us to that horrible tasting Castoria! Hated getting it. All of us lined up and given a dose.

    After talking with my mom she treated us with herbal home remedies and the enema!

    She also gave shots. Can’t remember what was given. Since remember getting a shot laying on tummy on table, I guess it was a penicillin shot.

    I don’t remember her telling of a probiotic enema. But do remember getting the mild warm soapy water enema a few times. This was a common home remedy given by moms then.

    Carol A
    Posted January 7, 2024 at 2:22 pm

    Im wanting to do a probiotic enema and I have done tests that have shown I have massive disbiosis in my gut

    Posted February 9, 2023 at 10:52 pm

      Hi Hayden,

      WholeHealth Chicago treats dysbiosis on a daily basis. The practice has a wide array of treatments to help balance the gut. Please contact the office at 773-296-6700 so we can work on getting your gut back into balance.

      WholeHealth Chicago
      Posted February 15, 2023 at 8:20 am

    Information very intersting. Is the Probiomax by xymogen, taken orally only or can it be introduced via an enema?

    Cindy Blaser
    Posted October 29, 2019 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Cindy –
      We’ve had some patients use the probiomax as an enema but we typically recommend that it be taken orally.
      Dr M

      Posted November 6, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    I have post c-diff gut issues (for over 3 years now), have had the Genova tests done which show inflammation due to allergies, low in beneficial bacteria and high in beta-glucuronidase. I have eliminated the allergens, taking probiotics and calcium d-glucarate to normalize the situation but still no relief of symptoms. So I am going to try the probiotic enema next. My question is: can you use saline water with the probiotic enema? Thanks.

    Posted September 14, 2019 at 10:10 am

      Tap water enemas are fine. Sometimes distilled water is recommended but this is not necessary.

      Dr E
      Posted September 16, 2019 at 9:26 pm

    I have severe gut problems… Chronic constipation for years… Was recently treated in the hospital with anabiotic‘s for diverticulitis… After a day and a half I woke up from a nap in a complete anxiety and panic meltdown. Probiotics give me to match gut pain..Can you help me

    Susanne Harris
    Posted November 7, 2018 at 8:14 pm

      Hi Susanne. Much more information is required to assist you. We’d recommend meeting with a functional medicine physician; someone to really investigate the underlying causes of your GI issues. If you are local to the Chicagoland area, please contact our Center at 773-296-6700. Otherwise, take a look at the Institute of Functional Medicine’s website to locate a physician near you. Good luck.

      Dr. R
      Posted November 8, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Hi, I’m being treated by a doctor who specializes in detox. I have a severe case of Candida overgrowth. I’m also being treated for liver detoxification. The Candida messed up my BM’s for a long time, so I’ve been reabsorbing so many toxins. It took 7 colonics before we no. longer saw thick, dark colored mustard looking bile being removed during those colonics. I have skin rashes that are beyond itchy. Before all the bile was removed, my skin was on fire and blistering. The doctor told me I was on my way to liver failure. On days I do not have anti oxidant IV drips and colonics, I have to do organic coffee enemas. I am interested in doing here probiotic enemas. I live in FL, so I was hoping I could obtain info via phone on how to do these and what I need to use. I’m currently taking a 15 strain, 90 billion Probiotic orally. Thx, Robin

    Posted May 29, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      Hi Robin. It’s probably best to work with a local provider. You might try the Institute of Functional Medicine. https://www.functionalmedicine.org/practitioner_search.aspx?id=117

      Dr. R
      Posted May 30, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Hi Jonathan
    ProBioMax by Xymogen is a high potency probiotic. I would suggest weekly, for eight weeks

    Dr E
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 7:35 am

    How often and for how long do you recommend doing the probiotic enema for leaky gut and Lyme?

    Will a non-prescription high dose therapeutic grade probiotic work as well?

    Jonathan Darville
    Posted April 4, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Hi Dave,
    I loved the article. Esp. The opening paras – made me giggle. As a Hackney man of West Indian parentage I endured similar remedies which later have been shown to bare scientific proof.
    I am aggressively trying to cure/significantly abate my MS starting this weekend with probiotic enema and a 24 hour fast followed by a week of healthy eating as recommended by Dr Perlmutter (Brain Maker).
    Thanks for the advice thus far. Any further advice, greatly appreciated.

    Eric Banton
    Posted February 14, 2017 at 2:19 am

    Hi James
    VSL 3-DS (requires a prescription)

    Dr E
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:31 am

    What is the probiotic prescription name recommended for Lyme with a trillion good bacteria? Have an appt w/ llmd this week & want to request it asap Thank you

    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:33 am

    Can you recommend a place where I can get a probiotic enema?

    Shannon Smith
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Hi Shannon – Typically we teach patients to administer these to themselves as they are easy to do on your own. Are you in the Chicagoland area?
      -Dr M

      Posted July 19, 2016 at 6:53 am

    Very helpful explains alot thank you

    Paul lancor
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Hi Gator:

    I was not able to get my first enemas in until I shifted my position (laying on the left side, I shifted my right hip more forward). For some reason, that did the trick

    Nema Nyar
    Posted December 9, 2015 at 10:08 am

    I recently started doing basic probiotic enemas as rec. by my M.D. This is to address inflammation/autoimmune disease NOT constipation, as I go 2-3 times per day already. I am having trouble getting much of the soluion to go in even after having 1 or more BMs for the day. What can I do to improve this and help with retention when more does go in?

    Posted November 17, 2015 at 8:45 am

      Gator. It is probably best to perform your probiotic enema in the morning. Mix the probiotic solution the night before and let it remain at room temperature. Hold the enema for 15 minutes, if possible. You may feel an intense need to evacuate your bowels before the 15 minutes is up. Pay attention to your body’s signals and evacuate when it feels appropriate. Warnings: Speak with your doctor before performing a probiotic enema, especially if you have a digestive or intestinal condition. Do not perform an enema if you have a ulcerative colon or gallstones.

      Dr. R
      Posted November 17, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Hi Collette
    Probiotic enemas would not be dangerous and may be useful for a Crohns patient
    You can read plenty of articles online about fecal transplants and Crohns

    Dr E
    Posted November 16, 2015 at 6:10 am

    My son is struggling with Crohn’s and would like to try the probiotic enemas if they will help. Any guidance is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

    Posted November 12, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Am interested in learning how to give myself probiotic enema.

    Do you provide this service. If so, I will schedule an appointment. Although I live in Virginia.



    Posted October 8, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Sara – Dr. Kelley tends to be our office expert on this subject. She can help you decide what probiotic would be appropriate based on your health concerns. If you’re able to travel to us, feel free to call our front desk at 773-296-6700 to schedule a visit.

      All the best,
      Dr M

      Posted October 11, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Hi Evie
    I am sure you’ll be delighted to learn that Fletcher’s is still available, renamed as Fletcher’s Laxative for Kids. You can get it on amazon
    Hi Sandy
    Optimum Health is an excellent SanDiego resource for you

    Dr E
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 7:22 am

    What do you think of Optimum Health Institute in San Diego?

    I go and get colonics with wheat grass implants.
    I found your comments on probiotics very informative.
    My best,
    Sandy Kurtz

    Sandy Kurtz
    Posted May 19, 2015 at 11:59 am

    This is a very timely article and I applaud your open mindedness. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Irritable bowel. My stomach problems became so intense over the past few months that I have completely given up all grains and gone on a low carb/ketogenic diet. I no longer have problems with my stomach. Dr. Myhill, an English physician suggests a “paleo” or stone age diet for her CFS patients. She has a good explanation of how our gut works on her website. She claims, “the upper gut is a near-sterile, digesting carnivorous gut (like a dog’s or a cat’s) evolved to deal with meat and fat, whilst the lower gut (large bowel or colon) is full of bacteria and is a fermenting, vegetarian gut (like a horse’s or cow’s) evolved to digest vegetables and fibre.” I am not sure if this is true and I have never been tested for gut disbiosis, but my stomach problems are gone as long as I follow this diet. The CFS seems a bit better, but it is still a problem. You can find more info at her website under Fermentation of the gut and CFS.

    Tara Drolma
    Posted May 19, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Maybe it was because I grew up Catholic, in a large family of nine children, we were lined up and given Fletcher’s Castoria. It was only when mom (an R.N.) brought out the pan of boiling water to sterilize the needle for our annual flu shots, did we all run and hide. We actually got to like the taste of that castor oil!
    Great columns that you write, Dr. Edelberg. I still say you are brilliant! A genius!

    Posted May 19, 2015 at 7:52 am

    You are absolutely correct. I recently had the Genova GI Effects test which showed gut dysbiosis, a low level of short chain fatty acids, etc. I have started on a program to heal this and have made great strides. However, the insurance company refused to pay for the Genova lab test. I know they would have happily paid for a colonscopy, lower GI, and CT scan, all of which I had done seven years prior for the same (lingering symptoms) and would have had to repeat if I didn’t opt for the Genova test. The insurance companies are so short sighted, preferring to spend more in the long run.

    Deb S
    Posted May 18, 2015 at 10:49 am

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