The Bottom Line by Karen Phelps
Karen Phelps goes far above and beyond the call of journalistic duty to examine colonic irrigation therapy.
The subject of bowels is definitely not one of those things you want to bring up at a dinner party. When I tell people I am having colonic irrigation therapy everyone has the same reaction – “You’re going to let a complete stranger do what?”
The Colonic Health Centre is located in a quiet nondescript residential street in West Auckland. As if I wasn’t already nervous enough a petite young woman immediately comes towards me snapping on a pair of latex gloves. It might seem a strange profession to most of us but therapist Sesame Takle studied colonic irrigation in the States after suffering from bowel problems herself. Now talking about what goes in, and more importantly what comes out of, the human body is second nature.
And she is not alone. Colonic irrigation (also known as colon hydrotherapy) allegedly has many celebrity fans. Goldie Hawn, Robbie Williams, Demi Moore and Princess Diana are all rumoured to have had the therapy.
The Egyptians used the practice in its most basic form, the enema, in the 14th century BC. By the 17th century enemas were an acceptable practice in Parisian society and by the late 19th century and early 20th century, with the advent of rubber, the enema slowly gave way to colonic irrigation equipment. Perhaps the most famous early therapist was cereal company founder John Harvey Kellogg. In his Battle Creek, Michigan sanatorium he treated patients with gastrointestinal disease and colonic irrigation was often an important part of his therapy.
Colonic irrigation is just as the name suggests – a method of removing waste from the large intestine. By introducing filtered and temperature-regulated water into the colon, the waste is softened and loosened, resulting in evacuation through natural peristalsis (the rhythmic contraction of the muscles lining the walls of the colon). This process is repeated a few times during a session. Unlike an enema where the water will only reach a small way into the bowel, colonic irrigation is able to reach right through the entire large intestine.
Taking all this into account it is obviously vital to find a colonic therapist you feel comfortable with. Takle carefully explains the process then leaves the room. Clothing is removed from the waist down then I lie on a blue plastic bed curved so that the upper body is angled slightly upright with legs spread either side in a rather undignified ‘birthing’ type position.
There are two main approaches to this age-old profession. The closed system is when water flows through a tube about the size of a ten cent piece into the bowel and then all waste matter flows out of the same tube. Open system is the method Takle uses. A towel is placed to cover the midriff for modesty’s sake and a very small tube is self-inserted into the anus. Water flows into the bowel through this small tube and then waste is pushed out around the tube as you would when normally going to the toilet. All waste will disappear down a hole in the chair before passing into the sewerage system. Neither you nor the therapist ever comes into contact with the waste matter. Because the tube can be inserted without the help of a therapist one advantage with this type of colonic irrigation is that the patient never has to be exposed.
I push a buzzer to indicate I am ready for action and knocking hesitantly Takle re-enters the room. With a tape that sounds like orca whales mating playing in the background, I have visions of my intestines exploding inside me or disappearing like noodles sucked up a vacuum cleaner. The tap on the colonic machine is turned on and the resulting sensation of water filling the bowel is not uncomfortable. Takle gently massages portions of my abdomen to help loosen and remove as much faecal material as possible from the colon. Allowing a virtual stranger to view your faecal matter through the clear tube that runs alongside the bed is not for the faint hearted. Even though I don’t know her very well Takle now knows more about me than she probably ever wanted to.
So what exactly is colonic irrigation supposed to achieve?
Advocates regard the colon as a breeding ground for damaging toxins and insist that regular cleansing is necessary to maintain good health. They contend that faecal matter can accumulate in the pockets and folds that line the walls of the colon and become backed-up along the passageways of the colon. As more and more faeces pack the bowel, elimination becomes increasingly difficult and toxic substances are produced. This can not only affect the normal function of the colon, but, because the toxic matter is absorbed into the bloodstream, can also have a negative impact on other vital organs.
According to Takle the causes of a disturbed digestive system are often stress and the modern diet high in fats and sugar and low in fibre. The water during a colonic irrigation exercises the colon muscles and hydrates the colon and the body. Takle says exercising the colon muscles and the removal of toxic waste helps encourage better colon function and elimination. Other benefits of the therapy supposedly include removing blockages from the bowel, renewed regularity and digestion, clearer skin complexion, increased energy and alertness and a reduction in bloating, gas and mucus. Takle says conditions assisted by the therapy include constipation, irritable bowel, sinus, immunity, fatigue, bad breath, posture, backaches and headaches.
Although there is no firm proof the therapy works and it definitely has its opponents the statistics cannot be ignored. New Zealand has the highest rate of colon and rectal cancer in the world. Dr Peter Dady, Cancer Society of New Zealand medical director, says this statistic is thought to be partly related to bad diet. But could colonic irrigation also possibly help?
“There is one theory that carcinogens [in the bowel waste] being in contact with the bowel wall could give increased risk of bowel cancer. However this theory has been challenged many times. But how normal is it having a tube shoved up your nether regions? Might not there be some risks attached to that? To my knowledge there is no demonstrable benefit [to having colonic irrigations].”
My session lasts about an hour and it is somewhat of a relief to get off the table and away from the orcas mating. Afterwards I feel a little bit lightheaded. Takle says it is not uncommon for people to say they feel cleaner and a bit tired. She recommends I rest, drink plenty of water and introduce acidophilus yoghurt into my diet to encourage good bacteria on a regular basis for on-going digestive health.
Eating dinner that night is a sobering experience after spending the afternoon seeing what it will probably look like at the other end. If nothing else the therapy does prove the age-old adage – you are what you eat.
WHO IS THE TREATMENT FOR?
According to Takle colonic irrigation is suitable for most people. Only people who have a serious or severe condition of the digestive system, colon, heart or kidneys or have just had colon surgery, are pregnant or severely anaemic are recommended to consult a doctor first.
CHOOSING A THERAPIST
There are no regulations governing the practise of colonic irrigation in New Zealand. Ensure the therapist is registered with the International Association of Colon Hydrotherapy (www.i-act.org) and uses modern colon hydrotherapy equipment manufactured through compliance with strict FDA guidelines. The FDA-registered equipment should feature temperature controlled water mixing and back flow prevention valves, pressure and temperature sensors, and a built-in chemical sanitising unit and/or water purification unit. Disposable single-use rectal tubes, and/or specula are highly recommended.
Colonic Health Centre, 31 Virgo Place, Glen Eden. Tel. 09 8132054 www.colonhealth.co.nz Cost $75 per session.