If you’re a little squeamish, then any talk of toilet habits or colonic irrigation will send you running for the hills.
But, it’s a basic human function. We all do it. After all, what goes in must come out. And other than looking down at the toilet bowl post-number two, there’s no better way of seeing what comes out of you than during a colonic irrigation.
Colonic irrigation, also known as colonic hydrotherapy, involves flushing waste material out of the bowel and large intestine (or colon) using water. Sexy, eh?
Benefits of colonic irrigation
Advocates of colonics claim that they help relieve bloating, reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, maintain regularity, prevent constipation, increase energy, boost skin health and even kick start weight loss.
A study from Mackay Memorial Hospital (opens in new tab) supports this idea, as researchers studied 12 people with constipation-dominant IBS and six with diarrhea-dominant IBS and found that post-irrigation, reports of abdominal pain and discomfort reduced dramatically in both groups. Both groups also experienced more regular bowel movements and improvements in other adverse symptoms of IBS.
However, according to the NHS, there is no actual scientific evidence to suggest there are any health benefits associated with colonic irrigation.
What does colonic irrigation feel like?
Science or no science, I was keen to give this a go. So, I pushed all remaining dignity aside and headed to London’s Cosmetech Chelsea Private Clinic.
After a quick consultation – "how many times a day do you 'go’?" - I’m presented with a clear plastic tube.
"We use disposable tubes here", says Ruth Loyd, my therapist and Senior Colonic Hydrotherapist at Cosmetech.
Err, I would hope so. This is one occasion where I'm willing to get down off my sustainably platform because this tube is about to be glided up my bottom.
I strip off my lower half, hop onto the bed and lie down on my side, towel respectively placed over my area. A dash of lube later and I’m tubed up, with the other end of my disposable tube hooked up to a water tank.
It’s uncomfortable. As I roll onto my back I’m tempted to bail, pull out the tube and peg it out of there.
"Right, I’m going to start sending some water into your colon," explains Ruth.
Sh*t. Literally. Too late to abandon ship. Within seconds my stomach starts to visibly blow up—much like when you have a big meal and fizzy drinks. It’s that ‘full as a sock’ feeling and it hurts.
I feel so full in fact that the urge to ‘go’ kicks in pronto. Automatically, I clench, because well, it’s not the norm to just let one out unless you’re sat on the loo, door closed.
"Don’t hold it in," says Ruth. "Just release."
I do as I’m told. I won’t go into the particulars, but the contents of the tube quickly transitions from clear water to essentially, brown water.
I am physically repulsed at myself. Despite my nonchalant approach to bodily excrements, this is a step too far. Even writing this makes me wretch slightly.
The next 20 minutes goes by much the same. Influx of water and subsequent bloated stomach, followed by a release of waste. Ruth massages my stomach throughout, giving me a science lesson on the colon and answering my burning questions.
"So, I don’t get how I can be holding this much, you know, poo? I’m a fiber-loving, three-times-a-day kinda gal," I say. Ruth explains that waste often clings on to the colon wall, which builds up over time.
I’m not ashamed to admit that the topic of digestion fascinates me. Having suffered from IBS, bloating, cramps, and endless other gut related issues for the majority of my twenties, my Google search history is riddled with everything from 'best natural laxatives' to 'best yoga position to release trapped wind'. To many, this makes for grim reading. To me, it’s happy bed-time studying.
After a while, Ruth pours fennel tea down the tube to ‘move things a little more’.
It works. Then, 40 minutes later we’re done.
Tube out, I teeter to the loo, lock the door and don’t get up for 10 minutes. It feels like an eternity. I actually message my mate Lizzy while I’m sat there, because there’s not a chance in hell I can do anything else for a while.
The feeling post-colonic is hard to explain. You might think you’ll bound away, a spring in your step, rocking a concave stomach and feeling on top of the world. Like a new woman, you could say. Maybe for some.
I walked out bloated, which is apparently normal for the first few hours, and desperate to get home in case I had an accident.
When I did eventually get back to the safe haven of my flat, I couldn’t leave. Having also done a juice cleanse for two days before, I'd say the two experiences were comparable in terms of trips to the loo. I just remained indoors for the following 15 hours, by which time my toilet habits were back to normal.
Although a colonic isn’t ideal for the faint hearted, it’s a great way to tune in to your body and your gut and gain a good insight into exactly what is inside you, in my opinion. And, like Ruth kept re-iterating, "I’ve seen it all before". So don’t think that your colonic therapist is staring at your behind, judging your un-waxed bum.
But, it is best to avoid colonics if you suffer from certain conditions such as severe kidney disease, or have recently had abdominal surgery or have an active case of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s. Your hydrotherapist will determine the suitability of the treatment beforehand though.
Lucy headed to London’s Cosmetech Chelsea Private Clinic where a colonic costs £103. Head to cosmetech.co.uk (opens in new tab) for more info.
An additional 60 minute Endosphere Lymphatic Drainage Massage costs £125.
Lucy Gornall is the former Health & Fitness editor at Future and a personal trainer specializing in pre and post-natal exercise.
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