Copyright © [date] Nora Lenz

Although colonic hydrotherapy is as much a symptomatic approach to disease as drugs, herbs and surgery, many people who acknowledge the harm of suppressing symptoms with these other methods nevertheless accept the idea that flooding our colons with water can aid or hasten healing. The popularity of this potentially harmful procedure even among health-savvy raw fooders is due in part to the fine job the colonics industry has done of conjecturing and misusing the facts in order to sell its services. This is illustrated on one popular colonics website, where the question, “Why have this procedure done?” is addressed. Following is the answer, in its entirety:

“Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, second only to lung cancer in men, and breast cancer in women. And at least two million Americans suffer colon related diseases including… colitis, ileitis, diverticulitis and approximately 100,000 colostomy surgeries are performed each year!”

The statistics are interesting, and most likely true, but they don’t answer the question. We are drawn to speculate that the writer hoped readers would leap to the unrelated conclusion that colonics prevent or can be used effectively in the treatment of diseases of the colon. That is not the case, and if it were, you can bet that it would have been spelled out in less vague terms. This is typical of the obfuscation that proliferates the alternative medicine community in general, and the colonics field in particular.

Many mistaken ideas regarding the lower intestinal region of our bodies are promulgated by advocates of colonics and purveyors of other “colon health” products. There is much to be gained by perpetuating the notion that our colons are impacted, filthy cesspools. The idea that our bodies are filthy inside unless they’ve been artificially flooded with water is purely an invention of someone’s mind, and reflects a hostile attitude toward the body. The truth is, if you could see the inside of your colon it would look like a smooth, pinkish, soft muscular membrane somewhat similar to the lining of your throat or mouth. If you are afflicted with a digestive disorder like colitis or IBS, you can visualize your colon as you would imagine the inside of your throat if it was sore and tender.

The human body is actually like a donut, with the hole running from our mouths to our backends. In this way, undigested food or fecal matter that is contained “in” the colon is actually outside the body. Unless, of course, you force it back in with colonics. Colonics can force water and fecal material back into the small intestine via the normally one-way ileo-cecal valve that separates it from the colon. The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream through its semi-permeable membrane. Once waste moves out of the small intestine and into the large intestine, it is supposed to leave the body. If it is forced back into the small intestine, it will be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This is, in fact, what is happening when people claim to immediately “feel better” after a colonic. The stimulative substances that the body was attempting to eliminate have been re-introduced into the bloodstream and produce the same stimulating effects that they did when the person first ingested them. It should be remembered that anything which causes us to feel better immediately is not healing.

Sufferers of IBS and other digestive disorders are particularly susceptible to colonics propaganda because they are predisposed to the idea that all their suffering is the fault of their errant colons and the loathsome contents therein. This is unfortunate because colonics are especially harmful and are usually painful for these individuals. When disease of the lower intestinal tract is present, the tissues of the colon are irritated and possibly even lacerated and inflamed. The last thing they want to do is move. The colon is a muscle and like any other muscle in the body, when there is injury our natural inclination is to rest the affected area. When we don’t rest it, it hurts. Normally, the colon responds to increased pressure by contracting. This is how it produces a bowel movement. When water is injected into the colon, the muscles try to contract in response to the increased pressure, but they can’t — they are forced to expand instead, and beyond their normal range. In addition, they are forced to move in the opposite direction they were designed to. These muscles are designed for moving water and fecal material down and out of the body. It’s like trying to rotate one of your joints beyond its natural range. The resulting discomfort tells you that you’re in danger of harming your body if you don’t stop. When you feel discomfort during a colonic treatment, it’s the same kind of warning.

Over time, in people who make a habit of consuming cooked or inappropriate foods, the body acquires certain protections for itself against the harmful substances that pass through the colon. Dead tissues, accumulated mucus, and even impacted fecal matter (which typically exists to a much lesser extent than is hypothesized by colonics practitioners) are all part of that protection. Mucus is secreted in the colon to protect and lubricate the intestinal wall and to bind fecal material together. It also serves to protect the colon from acids formed by the enormous amount of bacterial activity that takes place in the fecal matter itself. Artificial removal of this natural layer of mucus obviously has negative consequences, not only because the colon wall is vulnerable without it but because the glands of the colon must work harder to replace the lost mucus. Without considering this very important fact, removal of these body-instituted protective barriers is declared by colon hydrotherapists to be an appropriate goal and a positive outcome of colonics. The question you need to ask yourself before you submit to a colonic is, “Once my body’s protection is mechanically removed by surging water, will I thereafter be prepared to give my body only the types and amounts of food it needs, and nothing else?” Are you far enough along in your health re-education to even know which foods are appropriate and which ones are not? Have you conquered whatever habits caused you to abuse your body in the first place? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you should pass on colonics. When you eliminate the body’s need to protect itself from toxic substances by ceasing to ingest those things, the body rids itself of the protection in its own good time. It’s best to let your body decide how long this process should take. To force it to hurry up will hinder healing, not assist it.

Colonics purport to remove “bad” bacteria, parasites and worms. Attempts to label certain microscopic inhabitants of our colons “bad” and others “good” are arbitrary at best, and are not based on a full understanding of the role that they play in the body. Bacteria and other microorganisms perform many beneficial, symbiotic functions in the body. Beyond the mischaracterizing of bacteria as either beneficial or harmful, we are asked to believe that a stream of water can discriminate between bad and good, and remove only the “bad”. In reality, colonics can actually encourage the growth of bacteria in our colons. One of the primary functions of the colon is to reabsorb into the body much of the water that has been used in the digestive process. Removing water decreases the opportunity for bacterial growth, as bacteria need water to grow (like all living things). Colonics reintroduce water into an otherwise perfect breeding ground for bacteria (dark, warm, waste-filled), which increases bacterial growth (including yeast), which causes fermentation and putrefaction, which is the cause of bloating. If bloating is a symptom you’ve been suffering with, colonics offer no help and can only exacerbate the situation. Additionally, anyone who is concerned about worms or parasites needn’t worry about removing them. It is only necessary to remove their food supply by: 1) fasting when symptomatic; 2) adopting a diet of whole, raw, fresh, biologically appropriate foods; 3) allowing the body time to cleanse and heal and; 4) following all the other requisites for good health like getting adequate sleep, exercise, fresh air, etc. so that the body can keep up with its eliminative burden.

Testimonials from people who believe they have been “helped” by colonics can be a powerful persuader. Ask 100 people who have used colonics how they feel about it and you’ll get 100 stories of how colonics helped them “heal”. People want their actions to align with their beliefs, and vice versa. So, they allow themselves to be convinced that colonic irrigation is helpful to the body, in the same way that chemotherapy survivors believe they were “healed” by toxic chemicals. Those who subject their bodies to colonics don’t realize that the pain they might feel during the procedure is the body’s way of warning them that sensitive tissues are being disturbed and irritated. More importantly, they have no way of knowing how quickly they would have healed without the procedure, how much damage it may have done, and in fact how much longer their bodies took to heal because of the colonics. It also needs to be remembered that people who claim to have been helped by colonics also tend to concurrently change their lifestyles. It is these changes that deserve the credit when they experience subsequent improvements in health, not the colonics.

Constipation is the most commonly cited reason for people to undergo colonic irrigation. Constipation is the effect of a worn-out, tired, overstimulated colon. This is caused by eating too much, eating the wrong foods, taking laxatives, and sundry other dietary and lifestyle mistakes. Enemas and colonics stimulate and irritate the colon, and wear it out even more. Thus, these procedures actually contribute to constipation. Clearly, there are ways to deal with constipation that take into account what actually caused the symptom in the first place, and that focus on removing the cause.

Even though it may seem to new raw fooders that they are doing everything possible to be healthy, they can nevertheless experience constipation from time to time as they learn which foods are optimal and as their bodies slowly regain lost vitality. Sometimes it can start if you simply ignore your bowel’s signal that it needs to move. The feces become dry and impacted and the bowel becomes tired and atrophied. In all but a few very extreme cases in which an enema is useful as a one-time emergency tool, the body can remedy the situation entirely on its own if the conditions that caused it are removed. Before anything like an emergency enema is employed, there are many other things that should be tried and considered first. For one, juicing is not helpful if you are constipated because your body needs the bulk. Further, much benefit can be derived from eating only whole juicy fruit for a few days, like apples, mangoes, pears, grapes, citrus, tomatoes, cherimoya, cucumbers, young coconuts, and also iceberg lettuce (it’s watery and easily digestible) and celery. Until your constipation is relieved, it’s best to stay away from foods that are dry or difficult to digest, like starches of all kinds, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and the denser greens like kale and chard.

To get a full understanding of the harm done by colonics, the negative psychological effects need to be considered as well. Primary among these is the fostering of a belief in the user that there are “cures” and that we can assist the body in healing. In reality, the body is perfectly able to heal itself without any of these unnatural and abnormal procedures. It is often conceded by colonics practitioners that the procedure is unnatural. But, they reason, our modern junk food diet is unnatural too, and the damage it inflicts on us makes it necessary to “assist” our bodies back to a healthy condition. This is basically the all-purpose argument that alternative medicine uses to encourage any number of other unhealthful procedures and substances. Enemas have been used for almost as long as civilization has existed. Humans have been making diet and lifestyle mistakes even longer than that, otherwise there would have been no motivation for the invention of enemas. Throughout the ages, therefore, those who sought to encourage these unhealthful practices have always been able to find rationalization for their use. Civilized humans have an unfortunate tendency to give validation to a misguided practice solely by virtue of the length of time it has been used. Unhealthful practices can sometimes become common and customary before the full detrimental effects of their use are known and acknowledged. Witness the modern practice of using drugs or herbs to stop symptoms. The truth remains that the cumulative harm done by unnatural lifestyle habits is only compounded when we attempt to remedy it with still more unnatural practices and substances. Since the body doesn’t make mistakes and our puny intellects DO, we need to stop assuming we are smarter than our bodies. With specific regard to the contents of our colons, we need to assume that everything that is there belongs there, is working cooperatively with the body on perhaps a transitory basis and will be discarded by the body when it is no longer needed, or is on its way out.

It can’t be overemphasized that the process of healing takes time. The body starts out in almost perfect health at birth. It takes decades for us to ruin it with our unhealthful practices. When we first transition to a raw food diet it can feel like all our monumental sacrifices are going unrewarded, and there is a great temptation to try and hasten the process. Having the patience to allow our body the time it needs is the best assistance we can give it. There is much more to healing than physiological recovery, as well. As we’re healing, we need time to discard old beliefs in favor of all the new, truthful information we come upon. And, most importantly, we must learn how to respond appropriately to the emotional stimuli that previously motivated us to eat, and to change those destructive patterns. None of this happens overnight. It is extremely important for anyone wanting to heal to lose the idea that they can assist the body or speed up healing, which is really just a by-product of the false “cure” mentality that forms the foundation of the medical establishment.