As practitioners, we are often asked about the use of colonic cleansing. Our recent blog on dietary cleansing has renewed that line of questioning for a lot of patients as well. This brief article will help to clarify where our medicine stands on the subject.
What is a colon cleanse?
Traditionally known as a “high colonic” this refers to the process of flushing out the colon (or large intestine) with large amounts of water or other fluids. It is practiced by many as a method of cleaning out the digestive system of accumulated material/toxins in order to reduce the presence of those materials in the bloodstream. Some people like to do colonics on a regular basis, or seasonally for this purpose.
Colonics are not a tradition in eastern medicine.
There really isn’t a tradition of colonic flushing in eastern tradition, and so we generally don’t recommend them for most patients. They have a tendency to be cooling in nature (even if the fluid/water is warmed) and flush beneficial bacterial colonies out of the colon along with the unwanted material (feces). There is a tradition of gentle enema in Aryuvedic medicine, but it is usually part of a 21 day process called Panchakarma that includes strict dietary guidelines, herbal supplementation, body work and herbal oil treatments as well. This however is a less rigorous flushing of the colon than the Western idea of colonic. In both of the Eastern traditions, colonic is not recommended for patients with systemic weakness, intestinal dampness or a tendency to be cold in general.
What about your large intestine?
The Chinese Medicine idea of the Large Intestine (otherwise known as the colon) is as one of the 6 Fu or “tubelike” organs of the body. These organs are warm in nature and move substances in a downward direction.The Large Intestine is paired with the Lungs in Oriental Medicine. Dysfunction of one of the pair can result in symptoms in the other – for example, dysfunction of the Large Intestine can manifest as cough, congestion or skin irritation/rash (Lung type issues).
The Large Intestine’s job is to receive material from the Small Intestine, further absorb nutrients and especially fluids from it and then to excrete the unusable in the form of stools. It relies on a variety of micro-organisms to accomplish its work of metabolizing proteins and sugars, producing organic acids needed in the body, breaking down left over bile acids and even in the production of vitamins (especially vitamin K) for use by the body. When colonics are performed most of these organisms are washed out of the surface of the colon and their numbers must be rebuilt in order to continue their vital work.
Repeated colonics can damage the ability of beneficial bacteria to maintain a working colony in the gut.
The digestive tract is viewed as a sequential group of organs, acting together to harvest necessary nutrition from the food we eat and dispose of the unwanted or unusable through bowel movements and urination. If one keeps the input (ie. food and drink) pure and nutritious, there should be no need for outside “intervention” to keep the system cleaned. Making sure the diet is rich in fiber, water, reducing heavy meats and fats that tend to clog and weigh down the system and avoiding chemicals in one’s food are the best way to ensure health of the digestive tract. Balancing one’s emotions by the use of things like meditation, sharing with friends or a spiritual practice is also beneficial, as are exercise and proper amounts of restful sleep.
If you do choose to have colonic therapy, we recommend it only for healthy individuals, with strong digestion and good body temperature maintenance.
They do not need to be done more than once every few years for most folks and should be followed up by several months of supplementation with a broad spectrum probiotic and/or plenty of naturally fermented foods to rebuild the colon’s flora.
For those with digestive complaints related to the bowel, we recommend you explore the root cause of your issues.
A thorough Oriental Medical Diagnosis and subsequent treatment with Acupuncture and Herbal formulas, along with some simple dietary and lifestyle changes can have that colon back in balanced working order; resulting in a happier, healthier way of being in your body, and a body that is better able to care for itself efficiently for a long time.