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Colonic Irrigations: A Review of the Historical Controversy and the Potential for Adverse Effects

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Colonic irrigations enjoy widespread popularity in the alternative medicine community, while being viewed with considerable skepticism by the conventional medical community. While 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 non-medical 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, but it is first necessary that a quantitative estimate of the potential for adverse effects be made for the purposes of informed consent. 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.

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