Table of Contents > Alternative Modalities > Colon therapy/colonic irrigation Print

Colon therapy/colonic irrigation


Also listed as: Enema, High colonic
Related terms

Related Terms
  • Bowel cleansing, colonic hydrotherapy, colonic irrigation, enema, high colonic.

  • Irrigation of the colon for therapeutic purposes may have been used as early as ancient Egypt, China, India, and Greece. This practice gained popularity in 19th Century European spas, and has been used in modern times to promote general well being and to treat multiple health conditions.
  • Modern day colonic irrigation, or colonic hydrotherapy, is a variant of enema treatment. The technique involves flushing the bowel with water using different quantities, temperatures and pressures. A tube is inserted into the rectum and water is introduced either alone, or with the addition of enzymes, coffee, probiotics, or herbs. During a "high colonic," water goes in though one tube and is removed along with debris from the colon through another tube called an obturator. Treatment sessions may last up to one hour.

  • Proposed benefits of this therapy include improved mental outlook, enhancement of the immune system, and elimination of toxic substances. It has been suggested that intestinal bacteria or waste products can affect the entire body's immune system, and therefore may be involved with diseases outside of the gastrointestinal tract. By washing these away, it is theorized that beneficial effects may occur in overall health, although this has not been proven in scientific studies.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *

Colonic irrigation may be used in patients with ostomies (post-surgical connections of the intestines to the side of the body). This procedure should be performed by or under strict supervision of a qualified ostomy healthcare provider.


Surgeons or other healthcare practitioners may use colon irrigation before or during some bowel surgeries for purposes such as cleansing or towards improved healing.


Evidence from some studies has shown that irrigation with warm water during colonoscopy may help reduce the incidence of colonic spasm. Further research is needed.


There is currently not enough scientific evidence for or against the use of colon therapy for aiding in detoxification of drugs in the body.


Preliminary study shows possible benefits of regular irrigation of the lower part of the colon in the treatment of fecal incontinence. Further study is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)

Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Addiction, allergy, alteration of blood pH balance, altered eating habits, arthritis, asthma, back pain, bad breath, bloating, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, colds, colitis, constipation, cough, detection of parasites, detoxification, diagnostic procedure, diarrhea, digestive disorders, distended abdomen, diverticulosis, eczema, enhanced immune function, Epstein-Barr virus infection, fatigue, food cravings, foul body odor, gas, gastrointestinal disorders, general health maintenance, gout, headache, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), improvement of mental state, influenza virus infection, insomnia, irritability, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus, menstrual problems, motility disorders (peristalsis), pancreatitis, prostate conditions, psoriasis, screening for colorectal cancer, shingles, skin problems, weight loss.


Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

  • Colonic irrigation must be carefully administered to prevent potentially serious adverse effects. Excessive treatments may lead to absorption of too much water leading to electrolyte imbalances, nausea, vomiting, heart failure/fluid in the lungs, abnormal heart rhythms, or coma. Infections have been reported with the use of colonic irrigation, possibly due to contaminated equipment or as a result of clearing out normal colon bacteria allowing infectious bacteria to overgrow. There is a risk of bowel perforation (breakage of the bowel wall), which is a serious complication that can lead to septic shock and death.
  • People with diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, severe or internal hemorrhoids, rectal/colon tumors, or recovering from bowel surgery should avoid colon irrigation, unless specifically directed by a doctor. Frequent treatments should be avoided in people with heart disease or kidney disease. Be sure that colonic equipment is sterile, and that the practitioner is a well-qualified healthcare provider before accepting treatment. Colonic irrigation should not be used as the sole treatment for serious conditions instead of more proven therapies, and should not delay the time before a qualified healthcare provider is consulted for potentially serious symptoms or illnesses.

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. Anonymous. Amebiasis associated with colonic irrigation--Colorado. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 3-13-1981;30(9):101-102.
  2. Briel JW, Schouten WR, Vlot EA, et al. Clinical value of colonic irrigation in patients with continence disturbances. Dis Colon Rectum 1997;40(7):802-805.
  3. Ernst E. Colonic irrigation and the theory of autointoxication: a triumph of ignorance over science. J Clin.Gastroenterol 1997;24(4):196-198.
  4. Istre GR, Kreiss K, Hopkins RS, et al. An outbreak of amebiasis spread by colonic irrigation at a chiropractic clinic. N.Engl J Med 8-5-1982;307(6):339-342.
  5. Lim JF, Tang CL, Seow-ChoenF, et al. Prospective, randomized trial comparing intraoperative colonic irrigation with manual decompression only for obstructed left-sided colorectal cancer. Dis Colon Rectum 2005;48(2):205-209.
  6. Sha LJ, Zhang ZX, Cheng LX. [Colonic dialysis therapy of Chinese herbal medicine in abstinance of heroin addicts--report of 75 cases]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1997;17(2):76-78.
  7. Sisco V, Brennan PC, Kuehner CC. Potential impact of colonic irrigation on the indigenous intestinal microflora. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1988;11(1):10-16.
  8. van der Berg MM, Geerdes BP, Heij HA, et al. Defecation disorders in children: treatment with colonic irrigation through an appendicostomy. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 2005;149(8):418-422.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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