There are a lot of weird alternative health interventions out there, but colon cleanses, also known as colon hydrotherapy or colonics, have got to be among the weirder ones. Apparently, this has been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians, but it only appeared on my radar a few years back when a colonics business opened up next door to the dance studio I went to. My first reaction was to wonder why on earth anyone would not only volunteer but pay to have their colon flushed out, particularly in a non-medical setting.
However, why would anyone listen to me when they could listen to Gwyneth Paltrow?
Does it matter to you the direction by which your coffee enters your body? Goop’s beauty and wellness detox guide suggests the Implant-o-rama at-home coffee enema system. It comes for the low price of $135 (and no, I’m not making any of that up). Is do-it-yourself just far too much bother for you?
Gwyneth wants to hook you up with a metaphysical colon hydrotherapy treatment for only $125. There are crystals involved, although hopefully those don’t go up your bum as well.
This is not science
Here’s something that makes my heart sing: Canada’s McGill University has an Office for Science and Society. Its tagline is “separating sense from nonsense.” Their article on colon cleansing, organized under the directory for health and nutrition quackery, points out that there is no evidence of any benefit from colon cleanses, but there is evidence of substantial risks, such as bowel perforation from an unqualified person sticking a tube up your butt, or electrolyte imbalances.
The McGill anti-quackery article also explains that there is no scientific basis at all to the idea of “auto-intoxication”, which is the line of thinking that feces hang out in the bowel for too long and bad bacteria enter the bloodstream as a result. The article points out that with doctors regularly hanging out in that region of the body for colonoscopies and other procedures, they would know if there was shit (literally) hanging around that didn’t belong there.
There are some legitimate reasons to clear out the ol’ poop chute. Pre-colonoscopy, you’ll drink some laxatives that will leave you glued to the toilet for an extended period of time. A more civilized rectal adventure is the enema, which involves a fraction of the volume of fluid used in a colonic.
How much is 60 litres?
What is that volume of fluid, you might ask? An MD Edge article notes that up to 60 litres of fluid gets shot up your rear end in a colonic. To put that into perspective, that big jug of water at the office water cooler is 5 gallons, or just under 20 litres. Imagine three of those doing the funky chicken in your intestines.
So, if for some strange reasons shooting liquid up your butt appeals to you, resist the urge. Your intestines are built for clearing out wastes, and they’ve been doing it a heck of a lot longer than colon cleanses have been around. Resist the lure of Gwyneth, and leave your rectum in peace, because a perforated bowel is not a fun adventure for anyone.
There’s more on pseudoscience and public health on The Science Corner.The Science Corner: Debunking Pseudoscience