Colonic irrigation, also known as colonic hydrotherapy, is becoming an increasingly popular technique for clearing out the bowel. Water is passed through a tube into the bowel via the rectum, and used to flush out the bowel contents. Most people report feeling distinctly refreshed and more energetic after having the procedure. The principle is that many toxins build up in the colon where they may fester or even be absorbed into the bloodstream, and the individual invariably feels better for having these removed. The physical benefits commonly reported include relief from constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and wind, intestinal pain, skin problems, stress and general sluggishness. Many practitioners also offer advice on nutrition as well as other therapies such as massage.

I remain somewhat doubtful about colonic irrigation. I have often seen pictures of the remarkable amount of debris that is removed following the procedure but I wonder what it was doing there if the individual was having regular bowel motions. What is more, during my time in hospital, I have seen many colons that have been prepared for colonoscopy or bowel surgery that look immaculately clean once the scope has been passed. The bowels are generally cleansed by taking large amounts of water and a potent laxative 12 hours before the procedure. It appears to me that a fast with some fibre and a natural laxative may be just as effective as the artificial technique of flushing a fluid the wrong way around the colon.

Colonic irrigation and enemas have their place, especially if the bowel is stagnant for any medical reason and, provided that the technique is performed under the watchful eye of an experienced practitioner, is not particularly dangerous. A series of four to eight irrigations is usually recommended, and each procedure takes about half an hour. There are tales of bowel rupture if colonics are performed on individuals with a friable colon but I dare say that the incidence is far less than for those undergoing colonoscopy in an orthodox hospital.