It is now Summer. Hurrah. You know what that means readers the Summer edition of Optimum NutritIon magazine is now with us. To save you the trouble of purchasing it I picked up a copy this afternoon. It is published by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and comes with 52 pages of cutting edge analysis from the frontiers of nutritional knowledge, along with about ten pages of advertisements as well. Interestingly there is no mention of the ION’s founder, Mr Patrick Holford. Most of the articles were fairly uncontroversial, but a few stuck out. I have not got the time, inclination or scientific expertise to analyse the whole magazine, but perhaps you would allow me to share two articles with you.

Columnist Valerie Morant courageously investigates colonic irrigation: “But what exactly is colonic irrigation? (…) With some apprehension, I approached [a] colonic specialist (…) to find out.” Why exactly Ms Morant felt the need to be cleansed we are not told. However, apparently “by observing what waste material passes down the tube, the therapist can tell a lot about the state and health of the colon.” Now I am not a nutritionist, but I would imagine the reason our body discharges certain things as waste is because it does not need them. If anyone reading this column does know a thing or two about nutrition it would be interesting to have your comments. Our intrepid explorer of new detoxification techniques reports that she felt exhausted for two days afterwards. However, she goes to say that her digestion now feels more efficient and she will be returning for more of the same in two weeks time.

You will doubtless not be surprised to learn that colonic irrigation is not recommended by the so-called orthodox medical establishment. The Wikipedia article on the subject is very informative.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enema

It would appear its “use is not supported by mainstream medical practitioners and governing bodies, who recommend the use of enemas only in cases of constipation, though its use to treat a variety of ailments has persisted in popular use despite lacking scientific support.”  See for example, http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/gastro.html and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2668399

However, readers of Optimum Nutrition magazine are not made aware of the modern medicine’s skepticism of colonic irrigation.  The magazine merely adds the following rather weak disclaimer: “A word of caution. Colonic irrigation can be damaging to some people. ION does not recommend anyone to undergo this procedure without first consulting a fully qualified medical practioner.”  Who would that be?  If you consult a doctor or nurse they would probably advise against the procedure. I wonder what the holder of a Dip ION would advise?  If you do have problems with your digestion I would recommend asking  your GP to refer you to a state registered dietician.

(The full article can be found on page 50 of Optimum Nutrition magazine, Summer 2008 edition, published by the ION.)



  1. draust Says:

    My off-the-cuff opinion on “colonic irrigation” would be that it is
    complete and utter bollocks. You would have to be an unmitigated
    idiot to have it done, and a nutjob and fraud to perpetrate it on
    people. I would be flabbergasted if there were any trials that showed any
    positive effect.

    The excellent Quackwatch page you cited in the blog post also cites an article that Prof Edzard Ernst wrote on colonic irrigation about 10 yrs back – abstract on Pubmed here – which says it all, really.

    According to Mrs Dr Aust there is absolutely no MEDICAL indication for colonic irrigation in healthy individuals. It can be used sometimes in people who have major “evacuation problems”, if you catch my drift, but the idea of healthy people paying some dingbat to do it in connection with “fluising out toxins” is the purest hogwash. There would also be obvious potential for harm, e.g. damage to the rectum and large intestine, the transfer of nasty GI
    infections by inadequate sterilisation, or even “water overload” (sic), all of which have been reported in the medical literature.

    If the Alties’ patients feel “cleansed” after a colonic, there is nothing more to this than the vaguely satisfied / relieved feeling you might get after taking a large dump. Really it is amazing what you can con some people into paying good money for.

  2. dvnutrix Says:

    Hm – tbh, I have heard of people who have a colonic irrigation treatment if they are scheduled to have a prostate exam or a comprehensive pelvic that includes a rectal exam as well. Apparently, it is not unusual for people to experience the sensation that they have passed something when the doctor withdraws after the exams. So, given that there are people for whom this is a very disturbing sensation and who are deterred from having such exams by this apprehension, colonic irrigation seems to be something that reassures them.

    Tricky, because under the circumstances, it is not as if they would qualify for a prescription of one of the cleansing preps that would well and truly put their mind at ease (but would be well and truly OTT for this purpose). And, under the circumstances, it is not as if this is a population that would be happy/confident self-adminstering an enema.

    This is, in no way, an endorsement of colonic irrigation. Just an observation that, for some people, it enables them to have a necessary exam.

  3. draust Says:

    Obviously there may be reasons to need a “short-term clear-out” if you are having a specialized examination procedure (sigmoidoscopy, certainly colonoscopy), or if you are having surgery you-know-where. It sounds rather extreme for just a “PR exam”, unless you are, er, rather constipated. But I see what you’re getting at, DVN. What a jolly topic for a sunny Sunday afternoon.

    I have never quite been clear if “colonic irrigation” as practised by the AltMed idiots is simply “enema”. I had the impression some of the Alties liked to go the extra mile (or rather 10 cm), if you know what I mean. And what on earth would make someone go back and have this done every month, or even two weeks…. “a rather curious body-image, and/or relationship with your bowels” I should say.

  4. LeeT Says:

    Here is the website of Merlee Harris. She the practitioner that ION columnist Valerie Morant visited for her irrigation.

    It is interesting that she puts the letters SRN after her name. Doctors would be brought before the GMC if they were advising patients to take quack remedies. Don’t see why nurses should be any different. I’ll try and give the Nursing and Midwifery Council a call tomorrow.

    We hear a lot about cost/benefit analysis these days. I wonder how much a colonic irrigation would cost the NHS. Possibly there are cheaper ways of reassuring people about prostate/rectal exams?

  5. dvnutrix Says:

    I’m fairly confident that colonic irrigation is not available on the NHS but there again, I was surprised to learn that referrals for cranial-osteopathy are available in some GP practices, so what do I know.

    I want to be absolutely clear that I am in no way endorsing the efficacy, value, significance or any other ‘value word’ of colonic irrigation. I think that it is a completely unnecessary intervention for which the risks, however small, outweigh the putative benefits. However, it is not the most ridiculous activity that I’ve ever come across; some people feel the need for them and in the circumstances that I’ve outlined, unless there are contra-indications, I have to wonder if the potential value of the exam might outweigh the risks.

    I see that Sanctuary of Light offers many of the usual suspects such as a foot spa detox and live blood microscopy. Now, both of these have no clinical value but may have psychological value as part of the theatre of placebo (possibly a Goldacre tm) if you are into mythologies about cleansing and can visualise your body as a battleground of fungi, parasites, impurities and “sluggish white cells”.

    I suppose that a comparatively shallow colonic is just ramping up the props for the theatre. However, if, as Dr Aust implies, there are people who take matters a bit further, and have them on an unbelievably regular basis, then that is one of those areas where one is left saying: “They’re adults, it’s their money. Just as long as nobody is selling you this as something that will make you well and you are continuing to attend your GP for appropriate diagnosis, and there is no possibility that you would ever refuse a rational treatment for this…Or, as long as you are having this because it is the only way that you can bring yourself to attend for another intimate examination etc.”.

    Just to reiterate that I think it is nonsense and that there is no scientific rationale for such interventions. Plus, the list of claims made for colonic irrigation on that page is ridiculous. Of course, I could just be in need of one of the hellaciously expensive 10 day juice fasts and the expert attention of a balneologist.

  6. leet01 Says:

    Was unable to find the person with “SRN” after her name on the NMC register. I rang them up and they were also unable to find her. I am sure there is an innocent explanation. I’ll write a letter asking them to investigate further when I have a spare few minutes.

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