A colonic cleanse, also called colonic irrigation, colonics, or colonic hydrotherapy, is a procedure done to wash the walls of the lower intestinal tract. This service is often marketed as a way to prepare for a colonoscopy, ease constipation and other digestive woes, and detox, or otherwise enhance your wellness or appearance. “But even if a friend swears by it or a commercial makes it sound irresistible, colonic cleansing isn’t something you should do on a whim,” says hematologist oncologist Usman Shah, MD, with LVH Hematology Oncology–1240 Cedar Crest.
5 Things to Know About Colonic Cleanses
These procedures are touted as detoxifying, but are they safe or even helpful?
“Colonic cleansing isn’t something you should do on a whim.” - Usman Shah, MD
Consider the following – and talk with your doctor or clinician – before making a decision or an appointment:
- The FDA regulates colonic irrigation systems. While they’re not all the same design, the machine will have a small nozzle that gets inserted into the rectum and tubing that delivers fluid, such as filtered tap water, into the colon. “But just because equipment is regulated, it doesn’t mean the procedure is recommended by medical experts,” Shah says.
- You won’t find colonics included in current guidelines for colonoscopy preparation or management of irritable bowel syndrome. And although debate about their potential health risks and wellness benefits persists, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says research on colon cleanses is currently inadequate to support their use.
- Still, some health care providers may recommend colonic hydrotherapy. That does not mean it’s covered by your insurance. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services states that “there are no conditions for which colonic irrigation is medically indicated and no evidence of therapeutic value.”
- Colonic irrigation isn’t symptom-free. “During the procedure, you may have abdominal cramps or nausea,” Shah says. “Aftereffects may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, for example.” More serious risks include electrolyte abnormalities, infection, damage to the intestines, and problems with the kidneys or heart.
- Colonic hydrotherapy is not an option for everyone. You’re more likely to have complications if you have a condition, such as severe hemorrhoids; liver, kidney or heart disease; colorectal cancer; or colitis and some other gastrointestinal diseases.