This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Colon therapy is the process of cleansing and flushing out the colon, or large intestine. Also called colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy, the treatment is similar to an enema but more extensive. Whereas an enema (which you can do yourself) bathes only the lower portion of the colon, colonic irrigation (which must be done by a trained practitioner) attempts to clean the entire--roughly five-foot--length.
Those who espouse colon therapy say that the health of the colon can affect the health of the entire body. This theory holds little credence with the majority of conventional physicians, however. They believe there is no reason whatsoever to irrigate the colon, except in some cases of constipation and before certain surgical procedures, such as a colonoscopy. They also contend that the best way to care for the colon is to let its own natural physiological actions keep it in good working order.
Nevertheless, therapies to cleanse the colon have been around for thousands of years. The earliest recorded versions have been traced to physicians of ancient Egypt, who used devices similar to those employed for modern-day enemas. To improve one's well-being in 17th-century France it was fashionable to "enjoy" as many as three or four enemas a day.
Irrigation of the entire colon only came into prominence during the late 19th century, when Russian microbiologist Ilya Ilich Mechnikov first described the concept of "autointoxication." He argued that the body could actually poison itself as the toxins from fecal matter were absorbed through the lining of the large intestine and into the bloodstream.
In the United States, this theory was espoused by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (founder of the breakfast cereal company), who frequently lectured about autointoxication at his huge natural medicine clinic in Battle Creek, Michigan. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands flocked to Kellogg's "sanitarium" to enjoy the guru's health and fitness regimes, which included not only colonic irrigation and dunks in electrified water pools, but also aerobic exercise and the adoption of a low-fat, vegetarian diet.
In an article enticingly entitled "Should the Colon Be Sacrificed or May It Be Reformed?" which appeared in the 1917 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Kellogg reported his success in using colon therapy (along with diet and exercise) to prevent surgery in all but 20 of the 40,000 gastrointestinal patients he had treated at his "sanitarium."
The article created a wave of enthusiasm among conventional physicians, and for the next three decades various devices for colon irrigation became a common sight in the offices of many M.D.s, as well as in hospitals and nursing homes. Among the ailments for which doctors typically recommended colon therapy were high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, and depression.
Colon therapy flourished until the 1940s, when scientific articles began to argue that there was little evidence to support the idea of autointoxication and to suggest laxatives as a far easier option. It didn't take long for the irrigation devices to disappear from doctors' offices, but the therapy was far from forgotten. It continued to be popular with chiropractors and naturopaths, who firmly believed in the benefits of what they now preferred to call "detoxification."
Today some alternative practitioners continue to use colonic irrigation as part of a basic detoxification program, though many prefer to recommend herbal laxatives in supplement form. And there is still enough interest in colon therapy for several U.S. companies to manufacture irrigating devices, and for the number of colon therapists to increase annually.
In 1989, the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy was founded to provide training and certification for colon therapists worldwide. Today, thousands of people continue to seek out colon therapy for detoxification and health maintenance.