Colonic irrigation is often marketed as way to improve the immune system and clear out toxins from the system.
There is currently no scientific evidence to back up any of the claims made about colonic irrigation.
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What is colonic irrigation?
Colonic irrigation focuses on your colon, this is the part for your bowel which is right at the end of your gut. Your colon works by reabsorbing any water from food passing through it and by removing waste in the form of stools.
In people who have IBS, the colon may not work quite how it should do. This means that you may find yourself constipated at times because the nervous system around the colon is not interacting with the brain in the way it should. Ultimately, this can lead to constipation, despite your colon being full of stool which is ready to leave your body.
Colonic irrigation, also known as colonic hydrotherapy, pipes warm water into your bowel and out comes the stool. So, you may feel more relieved after having this therapy.
To have the treatment, you lay on your side whilst a tube in inserted into your bottom. From this tube, warm water enters your bowel.
Sometimes, the practitioner may add herbal ingredients to the water. The treatment usually takes around 45-60 minutes.
Can colonic irrigation help IBS?
In short, we do not know, as there is such a lack of evidence.
We only have 1 small pilot study from Taiwan which shows an improvement in IBS symptoms in both IBS-D and C (1).
BUT, the study only had 18 people in it, which his considered too small to draw any conclusions from. AND the people in the study had to have treatment twice a day, for 6 days a week, for 1-4 weeks!
Anyone fancy this?
My other concern with this would be, what is the long-term impact of this on the bowel. Good or bad?
Here is my article of how to use diet to help your IBS
Are there any benefits of colonic irrigation?
Despite colonic irrigation being used in 1000’s of studies, the research supporting its use outside of a clinical setting is negligible (2).
For example, there is research from the early 90s showing that this treatment may be of use in people who are severely impacted with stool. So severely impacted that they would otherwise need surgery (3).
Even with this study, gastroenterologists and surgeons tend to use a stimulant laxative and enema to clear compaction. This is because when someone is impacted enough to end up in the emergency department, their impaction starts much higher up. So, they need to target it from the top and the bottom.
Please note that this article is not medical advice and you should seek personal advice from your own doctor.
Is colonic irrigation safe?
Colonic irrigation has various risks associated with it, the most common one being rectal perforation (4, 5).
Other, less common, risks have also being reported in the research such as digestive infections and even death from electrolyte imbalances (6, 7).
The NHS recommend that anyone who has changes in their bowel structure, bowel inflammation or an increased risk of bleeding should avoid colonics (8).
These conditions include;
- Chron’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Anal fissures
- Severe anaemia
- Bowel cancer
There are other conditions on the list which can be found here.
Colonic irrigation doesn’t have any credible research to back up the multiple health claims. There are also some associated risks with the therapy and I would not recommend it for IBS management.
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.
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