Hydrotherapy of the colon, also known as colonic cleansing or irrigation, involves using water to flush waste out of the large intestine.

The colon is the large intestine, and it absorbs water and salts from waste material that has traveled through the body.

Bacteria in the colon break down the remaining material, which then exits the body through the rectum and anus.

Some people believe that hydrotherapy can cleanse the colon, and the Association of Registered Colon Hydrotherapists (ARCH) refer to the procedure as simple, safe, and convenient.

Uses and supposed benefits

Practitioners of alternative medicine may tout the benefits of colonic irrigation, but no research-based evidence supports their claims.

Hydrotherapy of the colon helps with:

Weight loss

Some practitioners of hydrotherapy suggest that it can help people lose weight, but there is no evidence of this.

After undergoing the procedure, a person may find that they have lost a few pounds, but this results from losing water and fecal matter — a temporary condition.

Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Some practitioners claim that colonic irrigation helps treat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, other digestive issues.

This is based partly on a 2016 study that included only 18 participants, who reported improved IBS symptoms after colonic irrigation.

Among the improved symptoms were abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea, and the participants also reported feeling more satisfied with their bowel movements and less disturbed by their symptoms.

It is important to highlight, however, that this study was very small and included no control group. The researchers acknowledge the need for further studies including placebos and larger studies that investigate the long-term effects, including those on the quality of life.

Detoxification

However, it remains a basis for the belief that colonic irrigation can help detoxify the body. In fact, the body has organs to serve this specific purpose — the liver and kidneys. During a colonic stool, toxins, bacteria, parasites and worms are expelled from the body.

Adequate cleaning is important to ensure that diagnostic and surgical procedures involving the large intestine are reliable.

The accuracy and safety of such procedures — such as colonoscopy — often depend on thorough cleansing of the colon. Hydrotherapy can serve this purpose.

Procedure

Colonic irrigation involves inserting the nozzle of a device into the rectum to send water into the colon.

A person can control the pressure and temperature of the water, and the entire procedure usually takes around 35-45 minutes.

Approximately 16 gallons of water pass through the bowel, and the fluid may contain herbal infusions or coffee. These supposedly offer additional benefits, though there is little, if any, evidence of this.

Modern colonic hydrotherapy flushes out the whole large intestine, unlike an enema.