The forgotten treatment: Colon hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy treatments — the application of water, either topically or internally, in the treatment of disease — have been performed in the United States since the 1800s.

by Dr. Shana Spector Deneen — 

Hydrotherapy treatments — the application of water, either topically or internally, in the treatment of disease — have been performed in the United States since the 1800s. Bathing in hot water to alleviate musculoskeletal pain, icing an acute injury and placing a cold compress on the forehead to lower a fever are all examples of hydrotherapy.

Colon hydrotherapy, also known as colonic irrigation therapy, was very popular in the 1950s. Its use dwindled by the 1970s due to the ease and availability of prescription laxatives. Today, herbal teas and stool softeners are easily obtained at grocery stores and drug stores. However, naturopathic physicians do not believe in the long-term use of laxatives, whether they take the form of prescriptions or herbal preparations.

One problem is that some of the more popular teas and over-the-counter supplements containing herbs such as senna, aloe, rhubarb and cascara are extremely habit-forming. Additionally, long-term use of these herbs often causes the colon to lose its natural capacity to perform necessary smooth-muscle contractions or inhibits its ability to send bowel “cues” to the brain altogether. Unfortunately, many individuals purchase these products in health food stores in the hope of solving constipation issues — unaware of the potential long-term damage they may cause.

The goal of colon hydrotherapy is to strengthen the muscles of the colon wall, increase daily bowel cues, and remove bile and the buildup of fecal matter. When properly performed, colonics will retrain a low-functioning colon by reestablishing bowel cues and re-creating the lost connection between the colon, nervous system and the brain. A well-trained colon hydrotherapist is adept at reestablishing this connection. The ultimate goal of colon hydrotherapy is for patients to have two to three bowel movements daily, which is a sign of optimal health.

The procedure consists of introducing a limited amount of filtered water into the colon through a disposable speculum, inserted several inches into the rectum. After the water softens the waste material in the colon, the waste is evacuated through a flexible plastic hose connecting the speculum to the colon hydrotherapy device. In a closed system, fecal matter is entirely contained so there is no mess or odor. The treatment itself lasts approximately 45 minutes, and the patient’s modesty is protected throughout the treatment. Only disposable speculum and hose kits are used.

Indications for colon hydrotherapy include constipation, poor digestion, headaches, skin disorders, allergies, autoimmune disorders, detoxification of the liver, fatigue, environmental sensitivities, imbalances in gut flora, and long-term use of birth control pills, antibiotics and other medications. Colon hydrotherapy works best when performed under the supervision of a physician, as there can be contraindications. Employing a team that understands the proper application of colon hydrotherapy is critical when addressing the cause of illness and moving patients toward optimal wellness.


Dr. Shana Spector Deneen is a naturopathic physician who is currently completing a master’s in acupuncture. Her practice emphasizes women’s health and the prevention and management of chronic disease. She is currently practicing in Scottsdale, Ariz., at Aletris Center of Integrative Medicine., or 480-443-7168.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 1, February/March 2008.

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