MONDAY, Aug. 1, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Despite the popularity of colon cleansing, there's no evidence that the procedure -- which can be done at home or in day spas -- offers any health benefits, a new study finds.
However, colon cleansing can cause serious side effects ranging from vomiting to kidney failure and death, the authors of the report say.
Colon cleansing -- also called colonic irrigation or colonic hydrotherapy -- often involves the use of chemicals followed by flushing the colon with water through a tube inserted in the rectum, explained the Georgetown University researchers.
They analyzed 20 studies about colon cleansing that were published over the last decade and found little evidence that the procedure offers any benefits. Instead, a number of the studies noted side effects such as cramping, bloating, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance and kidney failure.
The findings appear in the August issue of The Journal of Family Practice.
"There can be serious consequences for those who engage in colon cleansing whether they have the procedure done at a spa or perform it at home," lead author Dr. Ranit Mishori, a family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine, said in a university medical center news release. "Colon cleansing products in the form of laxatives, teas, powders and capsules ... tout benefits that don't exist."
It's also important for consumers to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no authority to monitor these products, she added.
Mishori also noted that many colon cleansing services are offered by people who call themselves "colon hygienists," but have no significant medical training. She pointed out that the National Board for Colon HydroTherapy (NBCHT) and many other groups that promote colon cleansing require hygienists to have little more than a high school diploma.
But Dick Hoenninger, a spokesman for the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy (I-ACT), which oversees the NBCHT, took issue with the findings.
"Colon hydrotherapy when performed by a trained therapist using FDA registered equipment and disposable speculums or rectal nozzles is safe," he said. According to Hoenninger, the study also "mixes up laxatives, both pharmaceutical and herbal; and colon hydrotherapy. Most of the studies referenced are for the use of laxatives, not colon hydrotherapy."
He also noted that, "I-ACT therapists are trained in the proper use of the [colon cleansing] equipment and are told to not make any statements or advertisements that cannot be verified in peer reviewed literature."
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has more about colon cleansing.