An analysis of the recently published, and much talked about, paper by Dr Ranit Mishori from Georgetown University on colon cleanses

The article was published last week and created a sensation when, apparently, a medical doctor announced that she had concluded from a “number of studies” that colonic hydrotherapy is useless, and even dangerous. It was then copied repeated and distorted by journalists the whole of last week, from Jeremy Vine to the Daily Mail and even the Guardian, but without any sensible research into the original article or the alleged studies. So far nothing else has been published that looks at the validity of the article and the “facts” it seems to perpetrate instead some journalists have gone onto mentioning death when it was never even cited by Dr Mishori.


This is a look at the arguments put forward by the article published on Dr Mishori’s behalf, and an analysis of their alleged validity.



The paper refers to studies on colon cleanses but does not differentiate between colonic hydrotherapy and herbal laxatives or other bowel cleansers. It claims that colon cleanses are dangerous and cause kidney failure.

Kidney failure could be attributed to excessive use of herbal laxatives but not to colonic irrigations if administered by a properly trained therapist who will always take a case history. Kidney failure in a healthy body due to colonic irrigation is impossible and the amount of water that enters the bowel at any one time is never more that 3 pints at the very most.


It is a fact that constipation is widely spread in the western world where diet, lifestyle and cultural habits have contributed to its expansion. This means that, even if the theory that the body is perfectly capable of eliminating on its own is true, it is not always the case as testified by the $725 million spent last year in the sales of over the counter laxatives and anti-diarrheal drugs in the United States alone.

The therapeutics suggested by Dr Mishori are a balanced diet (without defining what that may be and as if it was obvious…), regular exercise, 6-8 hours sleep and to see a medical doctor regularly.  

The paper alludes to the fact that somehow bowel cleansing should only be carried out by a medical practitioner even though it claims that it doesn’t work.  This seems a contradiction in terms. Actually the psychogenic element of bowel function is considerable and requires attentive and individual work which cannot be delivered in the context of a medical consultation due to individual patient requirements and lack of time.  

Professional training in the art of colonic hydrotherapy is not a medical training but it does train in developing sensitivity for the nature of abdominal tissues and the individual’s needs with a subject often taboo and misunderstood. It also puts colonic in its proper context which is as an adjunct to dietary and lifestyle changes and not as a panacea.

Unfortunately there are a number of unsubstantiated and sometimes absurd claims made by colonic practitioners, which make for easy target. This kind of indiscriminate miss-information however is not exclusive to non-medical practitioners as demonstrated by Dr Mishori’s paper.

Setting the record straight on the actual benefits of colonic hydrotherapy would probably go a long way towards preventing the kind of witch-hunt on colonics that we saw last week from the media.
The mere subject matter not only touches on that very private of function (this in itself raises passions) but it also symbolizes the ongoing battle between the medical establishment  with the multi billion pounds drug industry lobby against the complementary health industry with no lobby to speak of.

If colonic is to stand its own it needs to make intelligent and congruent claims.

The effect of colonic irrigation on the para-sympathetic nervous system may lead to temporary discomfort such as bloating cramping and nausea but those are very temporary. Those come as the direct effect of vagus nerve stimulation which is, in fact, desirable when treating constipation. It helps the individual connect with the feeling of bowel movement and trains the muscles to work in a productive way especially when combined with abdominal massage.

Laxatives and anti-diarrheal drugs abuse have far more dangerous side effects.

Laxatives work by irritation and for that reason are habit forming. They also contribute to mineral loss and electrolyte imbalances because of their addictive nature and repetitive use. Colonic irrigation works by distension reflex stimulation and manipulation of the bowel and surrounding tissues. For that reason it is not habit forming. If done in combination with individual and sound dietary advices it is effective at training the bowel, improving its elasticity and restoring function. Obviously if done more than once a week over a prolonged period it may also lead to electrolyte imbalance but this is not the proper way of administering colonic hydrotherapy and is not recommended by practitioners who are well trained.

A number of researches have now exposed the profound and far reaching influence of bowel flora on health specifically in relation to hormonal balance and immunity. The overuse of antibiotics has also been identified as a contributing factor to the deterioration of hormonal and immune functions adding to the endemic development of a number of “western” diseases such as diabetes, breast cancer, chronic thrush, infertility etc…   

A study on “Durable Alteration of the Colonic Microbiota by the Administration of Donor Fecal Flora” in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: September 2010 - Volume 44 - Issue 8 confirmed the benefits of implanting beneficial bacteria post colonic irrigation on hormonal and immune health. This is a practice regularly prescribed by colonic therapists.

In conclusion colonic hydrotherapy is not to be confused with bowel cleansers and laxatives. It is safe, if mindful of contra-indications. Not only does it remove body waste, something which benefits a lot of people, but it also trains the bowel and achieves in depth bodywork if done expertly. Finally it is an opportunity for re-inoculation with healthy flora and for adherence to a healthier diet and lifestyle.

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