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Spring “Cleaning”

3 May

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.



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.



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.

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! 


Put a Pin it That!

26 Apr

Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical practices in the world, having been used in China and other areas of Asia for thousands of years. Acupuncture involves the stimulation of anatomical points on the body that are connected along pathways known as meridians, using a variety of techniques. Most often, this will involve penetrating the skin with thin, metallic needles, with or without electrical stimulation.

Acupuncture is recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as being “widely” practiced by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists and other practitioners to successfully treat a wide variety of conditions, including pain, digestive function, infertility, headaches, and more. Acupuncture is currently even covered by some insurance companies and the reimbursement programs are growing, especially for the treatment of chronic pain. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year.

I was only 19 years old when I was first exposed to acupuncture. After 6 months of being bounced from one doctor to another for intense pain throughout my entire body, coupled with fevers and fatigue, I was given a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (which in my opinion are diagnoses of exclusion when the answers are yet to be found). My physician at the time, a pain specialist, gave me 2 options: a spinal pain block that would be placed in my lumber vertebrae so that I could administer pain medication to myself as needed, or try acupuncture. 

Having grown up in a very isolated corner of Northeastern PA, where not even massage therapy was common and there were certainly no yoga classes, I was skeptical of Complementary Medicine, and wondered how laying on a table with pins in my body could help me. Was I ever wrong. 

I was privileged to meet David and Ming-Ming Molony, the owners of Lehigh Valley Acupuncture in Catasaqua, PA. My total physical, emotional and spiritual well-being were assessed in a way I never experienced before, and a treatment plan was tailored to address the integration of all of these components. The discomfort was quite minimal while the acupuncture needles were being inserted, and any discomfort was well worth the feeling both during the treatment and afterwards. Within a few months, nearly all of my pain was relieved. It came back, however, after I discontinued treatments. Months later, after extensive testing and clinical assessments, I was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease. It took doctors 2 years to figure it out due to controversy surround the Western Blot.

Although acupuncture could not cure a rampant bacterial infection, I marvel at the fact that not a single prescription I was given to manage my pain came close to the effect acupuncture had.  More importantly, I never viewed medicine in the same way again. Today I take advantage of the best of both traditional and complementary medicine and encourage others to do so as well. 

Here are some great resources detailing the theory and physiology of acupuncture in better detail:

Best of health to you!