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Do Colonics Provide Health Benefits? Are They Dangerous?

Q. I feel great after getting a colonic. In addition to feeling energized and lighter, I have a sense of well-being. Are colonics dangerous? Can you have too many colonics? Is once a week O.K.?

A. There is no scientific support for a colonic, a popular “cleansing” procedure that holistic healers claim detoxifies the colon, rectum — except when an enema is used to prepare for a medical procedure.


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A colonic “has never been shown to have any clinical benefit,” said David Greenwald, director of clinical gastroenterology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “The colon doesn’t need to be cleaned.”

Colons naturally reabsorb water and carry waste out of the body; there’s a barrier between the colon and the rest of the body that prevents toxic material from reaching the rest of the body, he said.

There are also risks to colonics, including the possibility of transmitting infection, depending on how the cleansing is done, as well as the risk of perforating the bowel and throwing off the balance of microbes in the gut, he said.

“I don’t have any data on how common they are, but to me it’s an unnecessary risk,” said Dr. Greenwald, who discourages his own patients from getting colonics, which have been popularized by endorsements from celebrities, including the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. “I’d rather have people spending their money on things with proven benefit, like exercise, high-fiber diets and good nutrition.”

There is an intuitive appeal to colonics, admitted Timothy Caulfied, a health law and policy expert at the University of Alberta in Canada, and author of the 2015 book “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash.”

But just because it makes sense to clean our hands doesn’t mean it makes sense to cleanse our colons, Mr. Caulfield noted. “You probably do feel lighter,” after a colonic, he said, but it is a psychological effect, not a physical benefit. “It’s not unlike having a bowel movement.”

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