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It’s What’s Inside that Counts: My Adventures with Colon Hydrotherapy PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Ross Blocher   

In an age of Internet daily deals, we are used to getting invitations from Groupon, LivingSocial, AmazonLocal, and a host of copycat websites. Pay $15 for $30 of food at a local restaurant; buy a cheap vacation for two in Cabo; get 52% off on go-kart racing. Businesses receive less money than they normally would for their goods or services with the worthwhile trade-off of attracting new clientele.

It’s quite common to receive such offers for alternative health treatments (Acupuncture, Reflexology, and Chiropractic seem to be particularly popular), so it didn’t surprise me one morning to receive a Groupon offer for “Up to 57% Off Colon Hydrotherapy” at a small clinic less than two miles from my house. The deal read, in part:

 

Like a house, your body should be thoroughly cleaned every so often to sweep away stubborn crumbs and ensure that there are no poltergeists hiding inside. Flush out unwanted bodily residents with today's Groupon [for] Colon Hydrotherapy.

In a Nutshell: FDA-approved LIBBE equipment gently flushes toxins & waste from colons with disposable nozzles that expel purified water.

The ad contained more description and weak attempts at humor, but I’ll break it down for you: Colon Hydrotherapy (a.k.a. Colonic Irrigation) attempts to remove “toxins” from your digestive tract by placing a tube in your rectum and pushing water into your body to make you expel the contents of your colon.

This is the point at which most of us would hit the delete key and read the next email. Not me, though. I knew immediately that I had to buy this. After all, on my podcast, my co-host and I investigate fringe science and supernatural claims first hand. “We show up so you don’t have to,” is our motto. We’d already had listener requests to try colon cleansing, and there’s no way I was going to pay the full $90 to have water flushed up my rear end. This was my golden opportunity. I called my co-host Carrie Poppy to see if she wanted one as well (you could buy up to 2 additional sessions as gifts). She demurred: “Water up my butt? No thanks. I’ll try the Master Cleanse.” (Carrie may have thought she was getting off easy, but her recent blog post tells otherwise.)

 

After a few months of putting off the grand event, I finally called for an appointment, and was given a set of instructions:

 

Eat lightly the night before: stay away from red meat, starchy foods, heavy stuff [heavy stuff?], alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Eat lightly the day of. Don’t eat anything at least two hours before your session. Drink plenty of water. Dress comfortably. Bring Groupon.



I followed all the dietary instructions dutifully and met Carrie the next day at the clinic. Upon entering the suite, we found ourselves in a nicely-decorated office with dark, saturated walls, and some beautiful artwork and furniture. Behind the reception desk was a very young-looking woman; Carrie and I estimated somewhere between seventeen and twenty years old. I fiddled with the business cards on the desk and asked, “Who will I be seeing today?” “Oh, I’m your therapist,” she said. Clearly she hadn’t been doing this for long, which was less than reassuring. As I went to use the restroom one last time, Carrie prodded my soon-to-be-prodder about how long she had been in the business. “So how long have you been doing colonics?” “Oh, well, I used to be in massage.” “Uh huh. And how long have you been doing THIS?” “Well, my sister used to have chronic constipation, but thanks to colonics, she’s all clear now.” Clearly, Carrie was getting nowhere. It was time to put my money where my... openings are.

Before receiving the treatment, I had to go through five pages of information and forms. They wanted my contact information, the reason for my visit, whether I’d ever had a colon cleanse before, and my history of medications or diseases. I signed a consent form stating I wouldn’t hold them liable if something went wrong. “Oh no!” I thought, “What could go wrong?”

The next step was to proceed into the treatment room. At the far end was a curved, plastic bed with some towels laid down for my head, small side ledges for my feet, and a big gully running up the middle to catch all of my excretions. The bed was hooked up by a series of tubes to a wooden cabinet on the wall with all the controls. Natasha showed me where I’d sit on the bed and instructed me to wear a plastic glove, remove the packet of lube from the end of the tube, and then use the gloved hand to place the tube “at least two and a half inches” into my... self. She could see the shock on my face, and tried to make me feel better. “Some clinics use a tube that’s THIS big!” she said, cupping her hand about four inches in diameter. I nodded weakly at the consolation.

 

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The plastic bed where I would do the deed.

 

After Carrie and Natasha had left the room, I undressed from the waist down and approached the bed with some trepidation. I’m almost thirty years old, and never in my life has anything traveled up my rectum; it’s been a decidedly one-way street. The tube was rigid, and perhaps three-quarters of an inch thick. On the wall in front of me a poster offered inspiring phrases in all caps: “FALL IN LOVE. NEVER GIVE UP. BELIEVE IN MAGIC. LEARN MORE. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS. TRY NEW THINGS. AND ABOVE ALL… MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT.” Gee thanks, poster. I took a deep breath and inserted the tube, then lay back on the hard plastic and buzzed for Carrie and Natasha. I was, indeed, counting every moment.

Natasha and Carrie returned, and Natasha came over to the bed and peeked under my towel to see if I’d installed the tube properly. I had. She then went the wooden cupboard and got the machine started up. It had the steady hum of a large fish tank. She informed me that the ideal temperature was between 97 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and a sensor would stop the flow if the water became too hot. I was then asked which level of pressure I wanted: low, medium or high. “Low, please. Let’s start with low.” The water started to flow out of the tube and into my rectum, and I had the very odd sensation of having my belly inflated from within. Natasha told me to let my colon fill up as much as possible and then release naturally. I looked over at Carrie for moral support. She was grinning naturally.

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The inspirational print was less than inspiring.

 

There was a bit of panic at first. It was a new, uncomfortable sensation, and I quickly felt like I needed to release my bowels.  Normally one is sitting on a toilet, not a bed, and in private, not with two women watching, so my modesty made me hold out a bit at first until I nearly felt the urge to throw up (we were informed that sometimes people do vomit). I pushed, and a bunch of liquid rushed out into the gully of the bed. From there, gravity and water flow pulled it into a clear, plastic tube that ran alongside the bed: a viewing gallery for my colonic contents. It was relatively clear at first, and my new concern became whether or not this tube was going to fall out my backside. I turned to Carrie and said, “I am worried my butt is going to push this out. That’s been its job my whole life!” She guffawed.

Natasha explained what we should look for in the clear tube, and Carrie came over to watch the refuse pour out of me. Natasha advised us how to find yeast in there, which she said is the primary cause of beer bellies. “You can lose weight very quickly with colonics,” she said. Most importantly, I would also be expelling “toxins,” she claimed. When we asked what toxins were, she said they resulted from smoking, alcohol consumption, and eating a lot of meat. I informed her that I don’t smoke, rarely drink, and don’t eat much meat, but she insisted that there were still many harmful toxins in the body and that this process would help remove. Carrie and I asked what they looked like and what they were made of. This stumped Natasha, who finally said she’d forgotten the answer because no one had asked in a long time. There was an answer, she assured us, and it was taught to her at the training class she attended in Las Vegas. She’d have to go look it up.

At this point Natasha left the room, and Carrie and I were left to talk about the experience. I continued to push stuff out of me in the world’s longest bout of diarrhea. Carrie took pictures of what came out (we have no shame) and then researched online so she could tell me all the potential harmful side effects of Colonic Irrigation (she has no shame). I finally noticed the ceiling, with its obligatory panels of cloud images above my head. Really relaxing, thanks.

Natasha came back in every now and then over the following hour; once to cool down the water when it had become too hot, and another time to turn the pressure up to medium (the poster on the wall inspired me to DREAM BIG, though I stopped short of high pressure).

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Carrie snapped this shot of me wearing my "who puts us up to this?" face.

 

The last step, after an hour of flushing, was to restore some of the bacterial fauna that I’d lost. Natasha returned with a tall glass of cloudy water and informed us that it was a probiotic, which would replace some of the good bacteria my colon needed. She poured the contents into a tube in the cabinet and then flipped a switch to push it into my colon. “Just try to hold that in you for two minutes,” she said. “Oh, hey, no problem,” I said, chuckling at my own anguish.  After that last step, the machine was turned off, and I was left alone again. I removed the tube, which was more difficult than getting it in there to begin with, pushed out every last bit I could, and then got dressed again.

When I returned to the lobby, Carrie still hadn’t managed to get a definition of toxins. We talked with Natasha a bit longer, and asked her if she’d heard the rumor about John Wayne and Elvis Presley having died with pounds of decayed matter stuck in their respective colons. It’s an urban legend, but apparently popular as an incentive to get Colon Hydrotherapy. “Oh yes, that’s absolutely true!” she exclaimed. “I saw a picture of John Wayne’s colon!” We asked if she could find the image online, and she made a few failed attempts before we let her off the hook. “It’s okay. We’ll find it,” I said. We didn’t.

We said goodbye and left the clinic. Despite our very gracious and friendly host, and our sample size of one treatment, we left pretty well assured that having your colon washed out is fairly risky business and unnecessary as a therapy. You may have to undergo such a treatment at some point as preparation for a medical procedure, but it should not be necessary as a means of removing toxins from your body. Our digestive systems, functioning normally, do a pretty darn good job of expelling waste material on their own. Short of a doctor’s order, I recommend you pass on Colon Hydrotherapy. There are other ways to TRY NEW THINGS and MAKE EVERY MOMENT COUNT. You’ll save some money, a fair amount of your time, and a healthy dose of your dignity.



Ross Blocher is co-host of Oh No, Ross and Carrie! and part of the Independent Investigations Group. You can hear more about his Colon Hydrotherapy experience here.

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written by The SkepDoc, July 07, 2012
I find this and the other recent story on colon cleansing disturbing. These treatments can be dangerous, and we can evaluate them without experiencing them for ourselves.
True believers are always telling us the way to find out if their favorite Snake Oil works is to "Try it for yourself." They allow themselves to be convinced by suggestion, placebo effects, the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, and other influences; but as skeptics we shouldn't fall for those things.
It's not up to us to prove they don't work; it's up to the claimants to prove they do. Please, no more risky self-sacrifices like this.
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We Show Up So You Don't Have To
written by rossblocher, July 07, 2012
Thanks for reading and commenting, Dr. Hall. You make excellent points, and I appreciate your advocacy for Carrie's and my safety, as well as the safety of others. Indeed, we do take calculated risks when immersing ourselves in some of these reports. We make the potential harms clear in our podcast, even dedicating a section to rate and discuss the danger value. We encourage others not to follow suit. Our motto is, "We show up so you don't have to."

The advantage of our approach is that it gives us a special perspective from which to discuss these practices. There is a long tradition of reporters who put themselves in harm's way, whether to report from war-torn areas of the globe or by getting deep within a cult like Scientology. Those insider accounts are able to convey some information that might not be publicized or available outside of the clinic/church/meeting. We get the reception a believer or potential convert would be given, and our questions are answered in the way a believer's would be, which is often quite distinct from what is told to a reporter. We are also often able to make friends with the practioners/believers and reveal their human side and their motivations, which are almost always prompted more by ignorance than by malice. We have found that our personal stories have been able to reach and entertain a wide range of people who may not have been exposed to skeptical thought in other forms.

We'll continue to take some risks, but will be honest about them and hopefully inspire deeper understanding of the harms that come from irrational thinking.
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