Colonic hydrotherapy (also known as colonic irrigation) is a treatment that involves flushing out waste material from the bowel using water. This is done by inserting a tube into the rectum, moving water through the bowel and applying abdominal massage.
This may sound unpleasant, but with a qualified therapist the experience should be a relaxing one. Here we’ll take a closer look at how the digestive system works, who could benefit from colonic hydrotherapy, the benefits and we answer some frequently asked questions.
How does the digestive system work?
Our digestive system is an incredible thing. At 20 foot long, its main job is to convert the food we eat into the energy and nutrition our body needs and then eliminating waste. There are many different processes and factors at play, so the system can encounter problems from time to time. We call these digestive problems and they include conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease, and temporary problems like constipation and diarrhoea.
Normally it takes around 24 hours for food to pass through the system and we should have at least one bowel movement a day. Sometimes however this process moves too quickly (causing diarrhoea) or too slowly (causing constipation). There are many things that can upset the balance of our digestive systems, including poor eating habits, lack of exercise and of course, disease and infections.
A strong connection between the mind and gut has also been discovered. This means things like stress and anxiety can cause a physical reaction in our digestive system. Think about the last time you were stressed or anxious - did you feel as if your stomach was ‘in knots’? Or that you had ‘butterflies’ in your stomach?
Let’s take a closer look at how the digestive system works so we can understand how colonic hydrotherapy can be beneficial.
The digestion process
The digestion process starts in our mouths when we chew and swallow our food. We are already breaking up the food, ready for our stomach and small intestine to do their thing. These parts of the system then use chemical processes to break down our food and absorb the nutrition we need from them.
Once our food (or the mixture that was once food) leaves our small intestine, we have already absorbed 95% of the nutrition we need. The next process happens in the large intestine. Here water and remaining nutrients are absorbed. Our large intestine also neutralised the leftover waste, making it safe to pass through the body.
There’s also bacteria working away in the large intestine to ferment waste (yes, this is what produces gas!) and produce essential vitamins.
When we eat well, exercise regularly and are generally healthy - our digestive system does a great job at eliminating waste. When some of these factors are off balance however, we may benefit from a helping hand. This is why colonic hydrotherapy was created.
Colonic hydrotherapy - an ancient practice
Known as ‘inner cleansing’, a form of colonic hydrotherapy has been used since ancient Egyptian times. Ancient Greeks also practiced it, as well as traditional Chinese and Indian civilisations. It was at the turn of the 20th century that the equipment used today was developed.
Over the years different equipment and forms of the therapy have been used, but the premise remains the same - to gently wash the colon to remove waste, exercise and rehydrate the bowel. This encourages a healthy digestive system when things may not be working quite as they should.
Why have a colonic?
For some, colonic hydrotherapy can provide relief from symptoms of digestive problems, helping the system to rebalance and work healthily. For others, it forms part of a well-being routine, maintaining digestive health.
Our digestive health can be affected by many things, but perhaps the most common is an unhealthy lifestyle. This may involve a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, something many of us can relate to. Modern diets (complete with chemically synthesised ingredients) and lack of movement will eventually affect how our digestive system works.
Colonic hydrotherapy works with the natural processes of your body to bring the digestive system back to its natural, healthy state. The flow of the water during the therapy not only washes away trapped waste, it stimulates the bowels nerves and muscles to encourage regular bowel function. The therapist will also use abdominal massage to ensure the full length of the large intestine is reached for maximum benefit.
The benefits of colonic hydrotherapy
Included as part of a healthy lifestyle, colonic hydrotherapy offers several benefits, including the following:
- supporting the immune system
- stimulating bile production
- creating an ideal environment for friendly bacteria
- improving the absorption of nutrients
- removing leftover, old waste
- encouraging the bowel to move and function normally
Many people report feeling more energetic and having improved skin and circulation following the therapy.
Who should avoid colonic hydrotherapy?
While most people can benefit from this therapy, there are some circumstances in which colonic hydrotherapy is not avoided. If you suffer from the following, you are advised not to have this therapy:
- high blood pressure (uncontrolled)
- heart disease
- kidney failure/illness
- bowel or rectal cancer
- severe anaemia
- severe haemorrhoids
- fissures or fistulas
- liver disease
- Crohn’s disease
- strangulated abdominal or inguinal hernias
- rectal bleeding
- GI haemorrhage/perforation
The Association of Registered Colon Hydrotherapists advise against this procedure if you are pregnant, at any stage. If you are unsure or concerned, speak to your doctor about whether or not you are able to undergo colonic hydrotherapy.
What to expect
What puts some people off exploring a therapy like colonic hydrotherapy is a fear of the unknown. On the surface it can sound like an uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing procedure - but we promise, this is far from the truth. This is why we’re keen to shed some light on the process and ease some of that fear.
If there’s anything we haven’t covered here, or anything else you would like to ask, we recommend you contact one of our colonic hydrotherapists through their profile to make an enquiry.
Preparing for a colonic
Before your treatment there is nothing special you have to do to prepare. To ensure you are as comfortable as possible it is recommended that you avoid eating a big meal or drinking a lot before your appointment (and while it should go without saying, please avoid alcohol beforehand!).
During your first appointment you’ll have a consultation with your therapist and likely be asked to fill in a medical questionnaire. This is to establish what your symptoms are and what you hope to achieve with the help of colonic hydrotherapy.
Your therapist should also talk you through the process and explain what the equipment does and how the treatment will be carried out. After your consultation, you will have your treatment.
You will be given privacy to get changed into a gown and have access to toilet facilities. After the tube has been inserted, you will be covered up for the duration of the treatment. Once the tube has been inserted, the water will be pushed through. This water will be body temperature or warmer for your comfort.
When the water enters your colon, you may feel a fullness. When it empties, you should feel a relaxing sense of release. The waste will be drained away in a closed system so there is no mess or smell. While this is happening your therapist will use gentle abdominal massage techniques to encourage any trapped waste to dislodge and to stimulate the bowels nerves and muscles.
This process usually takes around 45 minutes.
After your treatment
While you are advised to take it easy after your treatment, there is no recovery time and you should be able to get back to your normal routine immediately. In the first few hours you may notice you need to empty your bowel more often, this is to eliminate any remaining water or waste.
After that, you may well find that you don’t need to use the toilet for some time (even a few days) as your bowels have been completely emptied.
In the days following you may feel a boost in energy levels, however some report feeling tired and a little under the weather. If you have any concerns at all, speak to your therapist as they will be able to explain how your body is reacting.
To give your digestive system a break following treatment, you may want to avoid heavy foods and those that you know irritate your stomach. Natural, easy-to-digest foods and no alcohol for a few days is a nice treat for your body.
Your therapist will be able to tell you how many treatments you’ll need to get the most benefit. This will depend on the outcome of your first treatment, your health history and your health goals. The number of recommended treatments can vary from one treatment, to a series of six over a period of time.
It can also be helpful to have maintenance treatments every six to 12 weeks to ensure you get the maximum benefit from your initial course of treatment. Many people include regular colonics as part of an ongoing well-being programme.
Frequently asked questions
It’s natural to be a little apprehensive before trying a therapy for the first time, but we hope the following answers to some frequently asked questions will help put your mind at ease. Any questions that haven’t been answered here can be answered by your therapist, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with a colonic hydrotherapist in your area.
Will it hurt?
Having colonic hydrotherapy should not hurt. Of course, it may feel a little strange when the tube is inserted and you may feel the urge to push it out, but this sensation will pass. When the water is filling and emptying from the bowel you may feel movement and fullness, but this shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Some people feel cramping when the bowel is filled, but this shouldn’t be intense and will pass once it is emptied.
Is it safe?
Carried out by an appropriately trained therapist, colonic hydrotherapy is very safe. The tube is single-use only which means it will be disposed of after your treatment. We check all colonic hydrotherapists who join us are registered with a professional body. These bodies ensure therapists have appropriate training.
How do I know it will work for me?
Everyone is different and responds differently to this therapy. That means there is no guarantee that colonic hydrotherapy will help your symptoms. It is however a natural and safe treatment with many potential benefits. The best way to find out if the therapy is right for you is to book an appointment with a therapist.
Does this treatment wash away good bacteria?
In the gut, good or ‘friendly’ bacteria is essential for healthy bowel function. Most of this bacteria will not be washed away and in fact the treatment can encourage an ideal environment for good bacteria to flourish. If your therapist is worried your gut bacteria may be out of balance following your treatment they may recommend a probiotic following your appointment.
Can I have colonic hydrotherapy if I’m constipated?
If you are very constipated you may want to speak to your therapist before your appointment. They may have some advice on anything you can do to ensure you get the maximum benefits of your treatment.
General colon health tips
While colonic hydrotherapy can help support a healthy digestive system, what you eat, drink and do will have a greater effect. Aim to eat 30 grams of fibre every day (unless advised otherwise by a doctor or dietitian) and enjoy a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Stay well hydrated as this helps ease constipation and avoid overindulging on alcohol. Avoid tobacco and keep up to date with any health appointments or screenings.