Health & health care, Science, pseudoscience, & media literacy

Are Colon Cleanses Useful?

Colon cleanses: is it useful to shoot coffee up your butt? Graphic of intestinal tract
Image by Elionas2 from Pixabay

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; however, 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?

Getting Goop-y

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. However, there is evidence of substantial risks, such as bowel perforation or electrolyte imbalances.

The McGill anti-quackery article also explains that there is no scientific basis at all to the idea of “auto-intoxication.” This 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.

Legitimate reasons

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, using 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.

The Science Corner: Pseudoscience, Public Health, and Media Literacy

The Science Corner has info on media & research literacy, fake news, public health, and debunking pseudoscience.

46 thoughts on “Are Colon Cleanses Useful?”

  1. I find it amusing how ‘colon cleansing’ is a bit of a special thing and a fad that celebs preach about, while all things bowel and constipation are still yucky and taboo. I admit I paid for a colonic once out of sheer desperation years ago with chronic constipation – hated the whole experience and it did nothing positive (though nothing negative either, thankfully). Constipation is dangerous and causing all sorts of additional problems, but if you’re otherwise okay in the bowel department then I don’t really see why a colonic should be needed or why it’s worth the risk and cost. Nicely covered, Ashley. xx

  2. Seriously, all they need to do is book a session with a therapist and every single week before therapy, they’ll have all the clean-out they could possibly desire.
    Guaranteed. (voice of experience here!)

  3. I saw the #pseudoscience tag and assumed what you would say, but read the whole thing anyway for lulz. No, I wouldn’t do this! When I need to spur things along I have a cup of Smooth Move tea and all is well. 🙂

  4. During my ED, I tried laxatives once and even had a friend do a colon cleanse. It can be so dangerous, and it’s pretty much what happens when people drink detox and cleanse teas and coffees.

  5. HA HA HA! No, just no. Ain’t nothing going into that part of my body, including crystals! 😀 (Great line!) I’ve never had an enema or anything similar, and I feel sorry for people who have–sounds dreadful, all of it!

    I sort of have a weird story about this. Well, it’s almost relevant. My dad had a client who was in the hospital with extreme constipation, and they were going to have to operate to empty his bowels. So on the night before surgery, a mystical (apparently) nurse’s assistant showed up and asked him, “Do you want to avoid the surgery and just get it out of there?”

    And my dad’s client was like, “Yeah, sure!”

    So the nurse’s assistant carried him in the dark of night to a room filled with baths. He filled a tub with near-scalding hot water, took off the guy’s clothes, and dumped him in. What would you know? He crapped all over the place.

    So then, the next day, his doctor showed up and was like, “Wow! We no longer need to operate. What the heck happened?” But the guy never told. He just smiled and said he’d had a movement. And then they sent him home.

    Great blog post! I love how you debunk stuff, especially when Gwineth Paltrow’s concerned! She’s such an airhead!

  6. How necessary is this ritual? I’ve had 4 colonoscopies and the small number of colon cleanse preps. I’d rather have an Exorcism than flush up against gravity. Fun times 😎

  7. Aww, we were just telling Younger Child how interesting Gwyneth’s divorce sounded: decoupling without blame, accountability with healing. And now this 😩. Wait til we break the news about this 😂

    Our favorite turn o’ phrase from your post is, “the ‘ol poop chute.” Wheeeeee!

    1. Wheeeee indeed! Decoupling without blame is an amazingly mature approach. Now this… but at least this shows she’s got business smarts if she can convince people that coffee enemas are a good thing!

            1. Only thing I can’t seem to find out via Google is how long does the deodourising properties of a sock on dried used coffee grounds last. I’d love to know because I’ve a ton of stinky shoes in old socks / pantyhose and I want to know even I need to change the grounds!

            2. Let me know IF you find anything haha. A site suggested 1 to 2 years if stored properly, but it didn’t have sources or anything. Plus my Anti Stink socks are def not airtight, because them being porous to destink places is the whole point.

Leave a Reply