The practice of using liquid to cleanse the colon, or colon therapy, has been practiced in various forms for thousands of years. Colon therapy was introduced to the United States at the end of the 1800s and was practiced as a treatment at health spas. John Harvey Kellogg was one of the most well-known American colon therapists. He treated thousands of people and then later founded the Kellogg cereal company. Colon therapy grew in popularity in the second half of the 20th century with tens of thousands of Americans currently being treated. Colon therapy is often recommended as a component of preventive treatment and has sometimes been recommended for people with MS.
In colon therapy, a liquid is used to cleanse the large intestine, which is also known as the colon. This liquid can be water, a solution of water and herbs, coffee, or enzymes. The liquid is passed into and out of the colon through plastic tubes, with 20 or more gallons used over the course of a single hour-long treatment session. A standard enema uses only about 1 quart of liquid.
Colon therapy is alleged to “detoxify” the person undergoing treatment, removing toxic waste material from the walls of the intestine through colonic irrigation. This is claimed to prevent toxins from being absorbed into the bloodstream, therefore preventing illness.
Evaluation in MS and Other Conditions
There is no rigorous evidence to support the use of colon therapy for the treatment of MS or any other medical condition. However, standard enemas are an effective treatment for constipation.
Possibly serious side effects have been linked to colon therapy. If sanitary procedures are not used, intestinal infections may occur. There are several well-known cases from the 1980s in which people died from severe intestinal infections that were caused by colon therapy.
Due to the lack of documented benefits, and the known, possibly serious side effects of colon therapy, people who are considering this therapy should discuss it with a physician.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos, 2007, pp. 74-75.
Cassileth BR. The Alternative Medicine Handbook. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998, pp. 179–182.
Ernst E, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. Edinburgh: Mosby, 2001, p. 79.
Hafner AW, Zwicky JF, Barrett S, et al. Reader’s Guide to Alternative Health Methods. American Medical Association, 1993, pp. 293–295.
Navarra T. The Encyclopedia of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York: Checkmark Books. 2005, pp. 29–30.