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Are Enemas Good for Your Health?

Undergoing an enema involves using a bag of water and a tube to fill your colon with enough water to stimulate contraction of the walls of your colon - the idea is to force your colon into expelling waste materials out through your anal sphincter.

Unfortunately, years of constipation and/or undergoing enemas can disrupt the mechanisms that are in place to allow your body to generate its own bowel movements - for some people, it can become near impossible to have a bowel movement without having an enema.

If you're able to have bowel movements without using enemas, and you're interested in having regular enemas for ongoing cleansing, I encourage you to consider the long term implications of fiddling with the natural contractile capacity of your colon walls.

Let's review some basic anatomy and physiology of your GI tract so that you're well equipped to decide on whether you should or shouldn't have enemas done on a regular basis.

After nutrients from the foods and beverages that you ingest pass through the walls of your small intestine to enter your bloodstream, what remains in your small intestine is a watery mass which consists mainly of the following components:

  • Fiber

  • Dead cells from the walls of your digestive tract

  • Microorganisms

  • Digestive juices

This watery mass travels through your small intestine until it reaches your large intestine, also called your colon.

As it travels through your large intestine, the walls of your large intestine absorb water from this mass. By the time this watery mass reaches the end of your large intestine (also called your rectal pouch), enough water is absorbed from the watery mass to leave a solid mass. This is essentially how you form stools for bowel movements.

The pace at which the watery mass travels through your intestines is mainly determined by three factors:

  1. The amount of fiber in your diet.

    The more fiber-rich plant foods that you eat, the quicker this mass will travel through your intestines. This is why not eating enough fiber can cause constipation - without regular intake of fiber-rich foods to keep this watery mass moving through your intestines at a healthy pace, your colon will have more contact time with this watery mass, which leads to excessive water absorption, which leads to uncomfortably hard stools.

  2. How well you manage emotional stressors.

    Emotional stress can accelerate or decelerate the pace at which this watery mass travels through your intestines, and can therefore be a cause of chronic constipation or diarrhea. Whether you experience acceleration or deceleration due to emotional stress depends on your genetic predisposition.

  3. The health of your enteric nervous system.

    Your enteric nervous system consists of a series of sensory receptors and nerves that are scattered throughout the walls of your intestines.

    Your enteric nervous system is responsible for regulating the natural waves of contractions that occur in the walls of your intestines. These contractile waves are what push material along at a steady pace towards your rectal pouch. Whenever the walls of your digestive tract are stretched by food or liquids, sensory receptors in these walls are stimulated, which sends a signal to your enteric nervous system, telling it to contract the muscles in the walls of your digestive tract.

Getting back to why I don't believe that enemas are good for long term bowel health, consider that whenever your colon is filled with water during an enema, the walls of your colon are stretched to a larger degree than they are with normal amounts of food and liquids that you eat and drink. If you have enemas done regularly, then over time, the stretch receptors in your intestinal walls may recalibrate to this greater degree of stretching and even become numb to the stretching that occurs with regular amounts of food and liquids that you ingest.

Also, repeated unnatural stretching of your bowel walls with regular enemas can lead to weakening of the muscles in these walls, making it difficult for you to have bowel movements without an extraordinary amount of stimulation to your enteric nervous system. As mentioned above, for some people, this lack of natural tone and contractile ability in the bowel walls can reach a point where they can't have a single bowel movement without using an enema or laxatives.

None of this is to say that enemas should be avoided in all circumstances. When I ran our residential fasting program, I regularly recommended a one-time enema for people who had a history of chronic constipation and felt constipated before they began a long, water-only fast. I made this recommendation because during a lengthy water fast, existing stools and materials in the digestive tract tend to build up in the rectal pouch and become quite hard. People with chronic constipation and problems with hemorrhoids or anal fissures can usually benefit from clearing out their colon and rectal pouch with an enema before beginning a long fast.

To summarize, I firmly believe that it is best to avoid undergoing enemas on a regular basis. The three best ways of naturally maintaining healthy bowel walls and movements are to:

  • Consistently work on reducing stress and striving to feel emotionally balanced

  • Regularly eat fresh, minimally processed plant foods

  • Adopt the four habits of eating for optimal digestion, the most important of which is to chew all foods thoroughly

I hope this information is helpful. Please consider sharing this post with family and friends who may not know about the potential problems with long term use of enemas.

Please note: Colonics are similar to enemas, the main difference being that a skilled practitioner can better regulate the pace and amount of water that is used during a colonic than most people can with enemas. Still, even with better regulation of water flow, I feel that regular use of colonics is not an optimal way to promote a clean and healthy colon.

March 12, 2010

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