Colonic irrigations: a review of the historical controversy and the potential for adverse effects

J Altern Complement Med. 2006 May;12(4):389-93. doi: 10.1089/acm.2006.12.389.


Colonic irrigations enjoy widespread popularity among alternative medicine practitioners, although they are viewed with considerable skepticism by the conventional medical community. Although proponents make claims of substantial health benefits, skeptics cite the lack of evidence for health benefits and emphasize the potential for adverse effects. Yet historically, there are clinical reports of effectiveness and virtually no research refuting these reports. Instead there was a campaign against exaggerated claims by nonmedical practitioners that resulted in a movement away from this form of therapy without any scientific study of efficacy. Given the current popularity of colonic irrigations, it is important that such research be performed, which will require a quantitative estimate of the potential for adverse effects. Although there is little specific literature on colonic irrigations, a review of the literature on related procedures such as enemas and sigmoidoscopies suggests that the risk of serious adverse effects is very low when the irrigations are performed by trained personnel using appropriate equipment.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Constipation / therapy
  • Contraindications
  • Enema / history
  • Enema / methods*
  • Fecal Incontinence / therapy
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Perforation / etiology
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / history
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / methods
  • Water Intoxication / ethnology