Dear Cedric

Dear Cedric,

I feel so revitalized after a colonic. Why is that?

Tom C.

Dear Tom,

Sucker! That feeling of revitalization is called a placebo effect. How much money are you paying for that colonic? $100? Instead, why don’t you take that money, buy some Metamucil, and use the change to wipe your sorry ass? (Then send me photos, please, for my, um, medical archive.)

A colonic usually consists of sticking a tube up your bottom and using it to irrigate the colon with roughly fifteen gallons of water, thereby rinsing out the fecal matter in your large intestine. The concept is to clean out stool and “toxins” that get trapped in your bowel, thus purifying the body.

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Most colonic proponents paint a picture of rotting particles and toxins that are somehow trapped in the bowel and can’t escape. Why shouldn’t we help get rid of them? The truth, however, is that our bowels are amazing organs. Over millions of years of evolutionary development, they have become very adept and efficient at removing waste. How do we know? Two ways:

First, by studying the bowel transit time. This is defined as the amount of time it takes food to travel from your mouth to your anus. You can measure your own transit time. Start by eating a predetermined substance, or “food marker”, such as red dye capsules or a large serving of corn. Then watch for the substance to pass in your stools. The first markers should appear after roughly fourteen hours. The last markers disappear after about forty-eight hours. Bowel transit time will vary between people, but the point is, all the markers are out within two to three days. Nothing is getting stuck.

A second way to confirm that our bowel efficiently passes waste is to directly visualize the colon through a colonoscopy. To prepare for this procedure, your doctor will ask you to perform a twenty-four hour “bowel prep” in which you avoid solid food while subsequently drinking solutions to clean the bowel. Then your doctor inserts a long flexible tube with a camera on the end and visualizes every part of the large intestine. The images show a completely empty, clean, and pink bowel. There are no chunks of stool trapped in any nooks or crannies. Why? Because the bowel wants to expel. It has no interest in holding the stool inside. “Toxic wastes” don’t accumulate. One simple day of prepping completely empties the colon.

Healthy colon

So, what is a colonic doing? Just speeding up the normal process of waste elimination from the bowel. But, because it’s messing with Mother Nature’s natural method, it can actually cause problems. The risks of a colonic include infection from contaminated equipment, chemical imbalance of the colon, and mineral deficiencies from malabsorption. I don’t want to be an alarmist and overstate the potential harm. But on the other hand, there is absolutely no proven benefit. Simply put, your bowel doesn’t need your help from below. It needs it from above. Do something that’s actually proven to work: eat more fruits and vegetables and take a daily fiber supplement.

So why do people use colonics? Misinformation. And a colonic industry that makes millions of dollars creating an artificial need. But why is the industry so successful? I think colonics speak to some deep-seated, maybe primal fears we possess–a fear of not being able to let go, of being trapped, of getting stuck. Or it may have something to do with control. There are very few things we can control about our bodies. And stooling is rarely one of them. To be able to expel on demand is to be like God.

I do appreciate one thing about colonics. And that’s the openness to explore one’s butt. Out of disgust or fear, I’ve seen many patients refuse a digital rectal exam or a colonoscopy, even if it could save their life. But people will pay money to have a tube regularly put up their butt to clean out the stool. If colonics help some people demystify and celebrate their butt, then maybe there is one good thing about the fad.

6 responses to “Dear Cedric”

  1. anonymous says:

    from cow flowers to anal health, this is one thorough and thoroughly unpredictable website.

  2. G-Lock says:

    For once, Cedric’s scatological bent actually comes in handy. Now I will pass up that next trip to the spa for my weekly caffeine enema. Thanks, Cedric!

  3. Stephanie Wells says:

    I had a friend who once solemnly cautioned, “The colon is a harsh mistress.” It was years ago, but I’ve never forgotten these words to live by. Respect her, placate her with offerings and sacrifices, for she is your ruler, and should she rise up against you in anger, there shall be much wailing and gnashing of teeth . . .

  4. Literacy H. Dogfight says:

    A friend of mine who happens to write for this blog once gave me the sage advice: “Make friends with your anus, and your anus will make friends with you.” I think that advice was less cautionary and more celebratory than the words of wisdom you received, Stephanie, but Cedric’s post had already gestured (obscenely) in that direction, so I had to share.

  5. Dr. Cedric, Only you could top a visual image more disturbing than the cow bouquet. That colon is something else. Eeww.

  6. […] Cedric Cedarbrook, MD, The Healthy Colon, from “Dear Cedric” Farrell Fawcett, The Davy Cockett, from “Dispatch from Sundance” Lisa Parrish, Ugly Baby, from “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no a-li-bi” […]