House Calls

Medical and other musings of a plastic surgeon

Colon hydrotherapy. Really? In 2017?

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Holy hole in a butt, Batman! Colon hydrotherapy lives. I just came across a Facebook page for a practice advertising colon hydrotherapy and therapeutic massage. WOW! Now there’s a combination.


As a practicing plastic surgeon, I live a rather cloistered life. I haven’t performed a pelvic or rectal exam in decades although I probably still could. I won’t say it’s quite like riding a bicycle but….you get my drift. I just don’t ever have a need to.


The functioning of our colon is rarely a topic of table side or cocktail conversation, unless you are in a nursing home, wherein it may be discussed at length daily. So long as our lower intestine does its job quietly and efficiently, we tend to ignore it, or take advantage to catch up on our reading.


What comes out is nothing more than the indigestible residue of our meals plus a lot of cellular debris from bacteria that live in our gut, bacteria that, by the way, are critical to our overall health. Mess with those bacteria, such as by injudicious use of antibiotics, and you can get real sick, real fast. Interestingly, most people are not terribly bothered by the emissions of their own bowels, just that of everyone around them. You don’t hear people gagging in stalls from their own BM’s. It is all of us others around them that run, holding our breath.

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Bowel problems are almost always our own fault. Excluding the known illnesses that impact our intestines, problems like diarrhea and constipation, hemorrhoids, fissures, and even things like diverticulosis, are due to abuse or gross mismanagement of our lower bowel. We drink too little water, we eat diets that lack sufficient fiber, and we get too little exercise. All of these slow passage of waste through our colon allowing too much water to be absorbed and what arrives at the end are goat pellets that our bowel is just not designed to propel efficiently, hence all the grunting and straining. Most of the time, however, our bowels work just fine and thank goodness for that.


It should not surprise anyone that our bowel function should attract crackpots and quacks. I guess the lure of managing even this is just too strong for many practitioners to resist. Crackpot ideas regarding our bowels abound. One of these is that our colons habitually harbor up to several pounds of accumulated waste that sits there putrefying and releasing toxins that can get into our bodies and make us sick. This simply does not happen and those who claim this should be looked upon compassionately as the ignoramuses they are.

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The colon is self-cleansing and does a great job of it. The only reason that patients are made to go through a colon cleansing process before undergoing a colonscopy examination is because there is a continual transport of waste through the colon which must be temporarily cleaned out to view the colon walls properly for signs of a cancer, polyps, diverticuli, etc.


There are people who advocate colonics to “maintain” colon health. Colonics and enemas are not the same thing. Enemas are self-administered fluids used to help evacuate the lowermost large intestine in cases of constipation. Colonics can be self-administered but are usually done by fringe practitioners who run a tube the length of the large intestine, about six feet, to flush it out with water or their own concoctions. Colonics takes sometimess bizarre turns such as using coffee, with or without cream and sugar. Nothing like starting the day with a nice cuppa.

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On a more serious note, a colonic or colon hydrotherapy, as it is sometimes called, is not without risk. Too much fluid can result in electrolyte imbalances in the blood stream. Bowel manipulation can introduce bacteria in the bloodstream and inadequately cleaned instruments can pass infection from one person to another. Perforation of the bowel has resulted from inexpert manipulation of the colonic hose. Persons with true colon disorders, such as ulcerative colitis, diverticulosis, and Crohn’s disease can have serious repercussions from colonics.


The facility advertising colon hydrotherapy on Facebook posted a multi-page printout of testimonials from medical professionals singing the praises of colon hydrotherapy, ranging from podiatrists (!) to surgeons and even gastroenterologists, proving that even supposed professionals can be fruitcakes. Mind you, there was not a single mention of any study showing any benefit to this procedure whatsoever and some of the comments on the benefits were laughable. At the end, there were just two references cited. The most recent was dated 1959 from none other than J. H. Kellogg, MD himself from Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes and a bit of a flake himself, was a true devotee of colonic management. His paper was titled, “Should the colon be sacrificed or can it be reformed?”


“Reform the colon!” I say. There’s money in them there bowels. I am thinking of opening my own colonic spa. The Elegant Enema. It has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

PS- If you really want to have some fun, check out just for, pardon the pun, shits and giggles. Please, please, stay away from this guy.

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