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The Nuts and Bolts of Colonics

For the uninitiated, a colonic is essentially a way to hydrate and irrigate your colon—a section of your intestines that’s approximately five feet long—by filling it with warm water and then flushing it out repeatedly. Like cleanses, the efficacy (and safety) of colonics is often debated: Proponents argue that it’s crucial for moving things along, particularly because our systems are over-taxed by clearing the toxins of modern day life, while critics posit that the colon is perfectly capable of cleansing itself on the regular. No pun intended. We asked Dr. Alejandro Junger, our go-to on all matters of cleansing and digestive health, to offer some guidance. (Meanwhile, here’s our goop-approved list of detox spas and colonic spots. Also: We’re giving away 20 of Dr. Junger’s Gut Cleanses on Instagram—follow us to find out more.)

Q

What’s the function of the colon?

A

The colon is the last segment of our long digestive tube. It’s where the final bit of nutrients and water from the food we eat are absorbed into our circulation. But just as importantly, it’s where most of the waste products are eliminated. This isn’t just what’s left of the food that the body does not absorb—the colon actually gets waste from our blood stream, and in a process opposite from absorption, dumps stuff from our circulation into the tube so it is eliminated with the feces.

The colon also houses most of the intestinal flora, the trillions of bacteria that we now understand are so important to our healthy functioning as an organism. The intestinal flora helps with detoxification, digestion, regulating the immune system, and many more functions.

Q

In a nutshell, what does a colonic accomplish?

A

A colonic helps with the elimination of the waste that is transiting the colon on its way out.

Q

Are colonics helpful for gut health?

A

Colonics are helpful in the right context and under expert hands. The right context is when a person is doing a cleanse, or when for any reason the colon is failing to accomplish the elimination of its content. During a cleanse the colon eliminates extra mucus. Sometimes there is so much, and it is so sticky, that it stays adhered to the walls of the colon, blocking the elimination of what needs to be disposed of. When this happens, the colon can be totally blocked and the mucus takes the shape of the austras of the colon (its foldings), much like a thick layer of old paint to a wall. When a colonic is done in this situation, what comes out looks like a tarry black mold of the wall of the colon, the mucoid plaque. I’ve heard people say that this is waste that has been accumulating for years, but that is not true. For the most part it is new material, which is actively captured from the bloodstream and dumped into the lumen of the colon to be eliminated. It is sometimes so sticky that it just clings there and keeps accumulating until it becomes a thick layer. Google mucoid plaque (Ed note: After lunch) to see what it looks like when it is facilitated out by a colonic.

Q

How frequently should one get a colonic? Any times that are particularly beneficial?

A

As with many other practices that can be beneficial, there are people who use colonics in the wrong way. I mostly recommend colonics to people who are doing a cleanse, and only during the program: Under these conditions the body may need to expel greater amounts of mucus-y waste fast, which can otherwise cause constipation. Some people have certain conditions that make it hard for the colon to eliminate its accumulated waste, and they benefit from colonics, but are also generally under the care of a gastroenterologist.

But it’s obvious that many people are getting colonics regularly even outside the context of a cleansing program. Some people get colonics when they feel a little bloated or constipated. This can be a problem because even though it will make them feel better in the short term, it creates a vicious cycle by which the real reason for the bloating or constipation is never addressed and these people end up relying on colonics for waste elimination. This may even end up altering the intestinal flora and harming people’s health instead of helping. Also, if someone has diverticulae or other lesions in the colon, which is the case in certain inflammatory diseases, they can end up with perforations, a life-threatening emergency. So the colonic therapists that I refer people to are carefully selected by me. I first try them personally to see their equipment, technique, and bedside manner before I send anyone to them.

Q

What’s the difference between a colonic and enema? Is there anything comparable that you can do at home?

A

A colonic, depending on the method used, tends to send the water higher into the colon than an enema does. An enema uses water pushed forward just by gravity. Today’s colonic machines use pressure which send water higher in the colon and can thus be more effective. Plus, during a colonic water goes in and comes out continuously, if one uses a closed system. During an enema one usually fills up with water, then interrupts the inflow of water to let it come out, only to repeat the filling up again. There are also colonic methods that are pretty much enemas, in which the fluid is only guided by gravity, such as the LIBBE system, which is an open system. These systems are less risky for perforations.

If you wish to use a home system and you know what you are doing, I recommend the Implantorama System.

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