In the quest for a cure for her mysterious illness, Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid has incorporated colonics as part of her healing plan, saying in an episode last year that she gets them weekly. But she's only the most recent celebrity to embrace the procedure. Everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow (of course) to Usher and Madonna are reportedly fans of the trend, which seems to have started when Princess Diana popularized colonics in the '90s. In other words, in terms of wacky celebrity health trends, the colonic leads the pack in both wackiness and staying power. With all their celebrity endorsements, colonics remain a popular spa treatment. Proponents say the procedure removes "toxins" from your body, leading to a bevy of benefits for your health. But if you ask actual medical doctors, there's really no need to get a colonic and, in some cases, the procedure may actually do harm. Essentially, during a colonic — a.k.a. "colonic irrigation," "hydrotherapy," or "cleansing" — you'll lay on a table while the technician pumps water into your rectum. Practitioners and all manner of internet health gurus claim that colonics help "detox" your innards of fecal matter that's supposedly been hanging around in there for too long. Some have claimed that the procedures also clear up skin issues, give you a sense of euphoria, cause weight loss, and cure pretty much everything. The tools used in colonics are approved by the FDA, but not for these specific uses. The agency has sent many warning letters to companies that manufacture devices and market them for non-medical colonic irrigation. But you can still have the procedure done. The "detox" thing is the biggest misconception people have about colonics, says Lisa Ganjhu, DO, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "There is no need to do a maintenance colonic to detox," she says in an email to R29. In fact, she explains that your body already has its own ways of keeping that part of you in top shape. That includes your colon's normal movements, your natural cocktail of lubricating enzymes and fluids, and the protective mucus membranes lining the walls of your intestines. So, rather than cleaning things out, going up there with a colonic may instead mess up this delicate system that's already in place. "[Colonics] flush large volumes of fluid with pressure," says Dr. Ganjhu. "The thin, delicate colon may not be [able] to withstand the pressure." Some of the more serious colonic-related complications that have been reported include bowel perforations, rectal gangrene, and water poisoning. These are admittedly rare occurrences, but you should definitely know about them if you're considering getting a colonic.
Dr. Ganjhu explains that colon cleansing may also disrupt the intricate balance of bacteria that's in your gut — a condition that has been linked to many health issues, including digestive problems and depression. Plus, with such a large amount of fluid going in and out of you, your electrolytes may get out of whack, which can be an issue for anyone with heart or kidney diseases. And, with the potential for rectal pain and cramping, there's a good chance the whole thing will be just plain uncomfortable.
That said, there are some unique circumstances under which your doctor might advise you to clear out your colon. "[For instance], I prescribe enemas for those patients who have severe constipation for several days," says Dr. Ghanjhu. "The method will soften the hard stool and make passing the stool easier." However, it's important to note that an enema is not the same thing as a colonic. An enema uses a much smaller amount of fluid and isn't delivered at such a high pressure. And this is being done with the direction of an actual health professional, not someone at a spa. So if you have some concerns about that end of your GI tract, your doctor should be your first stop.