Tom Ballard, ND's blog

Colonic Warning!
June 10, 2009, 9:09 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , ,

Why I do not recommend colonics:

My oath as a doctor is to first “Do no harm.” I take that oath seriously. I also believe in using therapies that have scientific validity.

What is a colonic?

The patient lies on a table. A tube is inserted in their rectum. Water (often with minerals, good bacteria, or other components) flows into the colon from a warming tank. The patient is instructed to hold the solution as long as is comfortable. A clear outlet tube allows the patient and practitioner (usually not a doctor) to observe what is being removed from the colon. The inflow and release of solution continues for 30-60 minutes until the solution is clear.

No good science

In researching colonics I could find no supporting scientific studies. Their usefulness is only supported by testimonials (“I felt great”). Testimonials are not always worthless, but I’m always cautious when a therapy only has testimonial support.

When you read the history and listen to proponents of colonics it comes down to two main points:

1. When a person is constipated, they feel better when their bowels are emptied.

I agree. Constipation is a very real problem that compromises a person’s health and needs to be treated. I disagree that colonics are a safe and effective way to treat constipation.

2. Sick people have colons that are lined with layers of sludge that need to be washed away with colonics.

I strongly disagree. If a person’s colon was lined with layers of waste matter they would not be able to absorb nutrients or balance electrolytes and they would quickly die. Furthermore, if you ask a gastroenterologist who performs hundreds of colonoscopies (essentially looking inside the colon with a tiny camera) about “layers of sludge” they will say they never see such a thing. This is a myth that is perpetuated by proponents of colonics. I challenge them to show us photographic proof, not imaginative drawings.


Many doctors ignore the normal function of the bowels. I’ve had patients who tell me their MD says it’s normal to only have 1 or 2 bowel movements a week. I disagree, based on the physiology of the bowel and population studies.


When we eat food it stretches our stomach. That sends a signal to the brain that then sends a signal to the intestines to start peristalsis – the wave-like motion that moves food through our digestive system. This results in a bowel movement 30-90 minutes after eating.

Population studies

People who eat traditional diets (high fiber, no processed foods) tend to have three bowel movements per day, one after each meal. These people also have fewer health problems, including hemorrhoids, gallstones, acne and varicose veins. (Varicose veins and hemorrhoids are exacerbated by straining to move the bowels) OK, if you agree that three bowel movements per day triggered by a natural physiologic process is normal, how do colonics fit? Not at all.

Safety Concerns

I’m not an alarmist. There have been very few reported cases of problems caused by colonics. However, I do have two major concerns:

  • Potential introduction of harmful bacteria because of poor maintenance and knowledge of hygiene. There have been reported cases of this causing illness.
  • Distention of the colon caused by the stretching of the colon muscles. Colon advocates say that colonics do the opposite; that they tone the muscles. However, they have no proof of this. They have never done a study to prove their point. On the other hand, logic says that if you insert large quantities of a liquid into a soft tube it will stretch. I say, why take a chance when there are safer, natural alternatives.

Colonics & laxatives:  Short-term solutions for long-term problems

Colonics are a semi-surgical method of stimulating the bowel to move. Laxatives are a chemical method for stimulating bowel evacuation. Certainly a person who is constipated will feel better after a colonic or laxative, but that does not mean it’s in their long-term interest.

The healthy approach to constipation is to provide the nutrients that allow for a natural elimination of waste matter. If you are constipated or have other digestive problems, avoid quick and potentially dangerous therapies. Talk to your PW physician about safe, natural ways of improving your health.


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