Spring “Cleaning”

The first time I saw an advertisement for Colon Hydrotherapy was in 2004 in Phoenix, Arizona. The concept sounded quite frightening to me, and I couldn’t understand why it would be attractive to people. I was young, carefree, and with my diet overflowing with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, I couldn’t imagine what would prompt someone to seek out a colonic. Over the past 9 years, I have seen a steady increase in products on TV, websites, supplement stores, you name it, advertising “colon cleansing” products, claiming to treat not only chronic constipation but every sort of ailment.

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In a time of “faster, sooner, now” it is hard for all of us to resist the temptation of products that make claims to both lose weight and help us feel healthier, which is why colon cleansing products have their own shelves in stores.

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Regularity is a very fishy topic. I did a little digging and talking with GI doctors at work. Some recommend a bowel movement (no specifics) every other day, while others recommend something of forearm length every day. Ok, enough poop talk, but you can imagine the wide range that people fall into here, and how it can be easy to convince yourself that your bowel function is abnormal. Factor in stress, and the picture becomes even cloudier. I could spend a year blogging about the impact of the nervous system on GI function, rather disturbances in GI function, but let’s stick to the current question: “Is colon “cleansing” safe? Effective? What about herbal supplements versus hydrotherapy?

I recently was in and out of GI care for non specific symptoms such as pain, bloating, reflux, all of which ended up being resolved by tripling my water intake and decreasing stress through meditation. 3 MRIs and countless lab tests later, I couldn’t have felt sillier. Before I got a handle on my symptoms on my own, I was signed up for a 5 session package at a hydrotherapy clinic. When I mentioned this to my doctor, I was surprised that his reaction was not immediately negative. He said that some people have used it with success, others have been injured, so it seems to rely heavily on the quality of treatment delivery, and the reason for the constipation. He of course pointed out that the problem with this therapy and other natural therapies, which we’ve discussed, is a lack of clinical evidence. How, for example, can you do a randomized trial on a procedure like this? 

I completed a brief literature review, and as I expected, found it to be a very polarizing topic. The most fair and balanced review I found was in the International Journal of Clinical Practice. The abstract and overview are here, and if anyone would like the full text, I can email that to you.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1742-1241.2009.02166.x/full

I did not keep the appointments. Call my crazy, but the more I teach research and evidence-based medicine, the more critical and fearful I become of any products, treatments, or “expert opinions” that cannot substantiate claims beyond anecdotal support, however overwhelming. Do I believe that because there hasn’t been extensive controlled research into a treatment, that it is not effective for some people, or is a sham? Certainly not. I can especially believe that with hydrotherapy, given the fact that it is simply warm water, and enemas are water with a saline solution that are used quite frequently in clinical care. Not only that, some doctors prescribe that osmotic laxatives be used on a daily basis for some patients. Clearly, the topic requires continued investigation, and as disorders such as IBS with no clear cause become more common, I believe the safety, benefits and risks of colon cleansing in whatever fashion will become more clear. 

If anyone who is not too shy is willing to share any experiences with cleansing products, we’d love to hear from you!

Thank you for your readership, and best of health to you! 

Krista

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