Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: Toxic Butts

The recent review of the scientific data surrounding colonic irrigation really got me thinking.

From Georgetown University report:

Mishori and her colleagues examined 20 studies published in the medical literature published in the last decade. She says that while these reports show little evidence of benefit, there is an abundance of studies noting side effects following the use of cleansing products including cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte imbalance and renal failure.

People will believe in some wild and wacky things. Personally, I never thought to myself, instead of drinking my coffee this morning maybe I should shove it up my ass to get rid of toxins. But hey, different strokes for different folks, right?

Or should I be more upset about this?

“Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity,” says Mishori.

Colon cleanse can potentially kill you. Ok, maybe I should be more upset. This is an approved Alt-Med-Skeptic-Topic™ that technically should get serious attention.

What do you think? Does this sort of topic qualify as something that we should focus our attention on? Or are there more important issues? And how do we determine importance? Should we ask to have a colon cleansing panel at the next conference or should we keep our skeptical noses out of other people’s butts?

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. My hypnotic colonic irigation mobalises the brains abiliity to intensify te colons natural cleansing ability, thee is no discomfort as nothing goes up your butt, thakes only 15 mins and only costs $650

      1. Isn’t irrigation supplying water to an area so plants can grow and produce crops?. Why would anyone be irrigating their ass :) Lol

  2. Really? No one has an opinion? This is the sort of topic we should be interested in right? It’s got charlatans AND science all wrapped up in a perfect suppository like package just right for our skeptical consumption. We should be jumping all over this. No?

    1. Quiet was about the reaction I got when I posted the link on my Facebook this morning too. And I’ve got woo-meisters as friends.

      I think people are squicked because it involves poop, which is a shame, ’cause ‘toxin/cleansing’ woo is my favorite flavor of woo.

    2. Personally, I feel less obliged to call out colonics because… what good is it gonna do? We’re talking about people who believe that they can clear toxins from their body by pumping coffee up their ass. Just think about that for a second.

      They’re so convinced of the health benefits of pumping coffee up their ass, that they’re willing to suffer what must be a very uncomfortable procedure, plus all the teasing that comes along with pumping coffee up your ass.

      Seriously, what can you do for these people? This is stupidity of a terminal level. Better to just make them as comfortable as possible and wait for the end.

  3. This *IS* something where the skeptic community should be involved in. We should allow people to be as stupid as they want and ingest whatever they want (however they want, too!), but we should at least get the information out there.

    I think the way we determine importance is how much harm is the activity doing? This can cause direct harm, so it goes to the top or near the top of the list.

  4. Maybe people are afraid of, ahem, talking out of their butts?

    I knew colonics were something I didn’t really want to ever do, but I wasn’t aware that they could actually kill people. You raise a good point; we get all up at arms over magic homeopathic water which can’t really hurt people unless you are using it in lieu of real treatment (or they freeze it and drop it out of planes), so why aren’t we more pissed off about this?

  5. Colonic irrigation isn’t the only potentially problematic “detox” procedure. Check this out, for example:

    Deal is, “detox,” and “cleansing” are terms that cover a broad spectrum of bogus pills, devices, diets and procedures. It’s a topic that Orac’s covered extensively at Respectful Insolence (example: ); and he’s not alone.

    But it’s a lot like trying to order the tide to cease coming in… when even quasi-responsible internet sources like WebMD lend credence to the notion that “detoxing” is effective (see: ), then it’s an uphill battle. Even for a process as unpleasant as colonic irrigation (probably) is, if the term “detox” or “cleanse” is associated with it, there are going to be takers.

  6. Every damn pun that popped into my head as already been used!

    I think this is excellent fodder for skepticism. As @andyinsdca said file it under “What’s the harm?” Well, this is.

  7. LOL – well, the jokes sort of write themselves, don’t they?

    In the end (no pun intended), most of the direct harm is financial. Yes, some people will also suffer physical harm (as noted in the paper Amy linked to), but the majority will not.

    This is why the usual “stay-away-because-this-could-hurt-you” approach has FAIL written all over it. There are too many glowing testimonials and sciency-sounding factoids, and not enough injuries to effectively counteract them. The few adverse events are too easily written off as the work of unscrupulous or poorly trained providers, vs. an indictment of the process itself. Even the side effects are accounted for by “detox” advocates (it’s known as the “healing crisis” – feeling sick is part of the process of feeling better, doncha know).

    I’d agree that this is excellent fodder for skepticism. But I also think that skeptics need to work on deconstructing the foundation that detoxing/cleansing is built on, vs. focusing on reports discussing the potential for physical harm (for the record, I wouldn’t leave this out either, but I wouldn’t make it a primary focus).

    1. “most of the direct harm is financial”

      Yeah this is what Ben Goldacre has called a tax on stupidity. He’s also done a video explaining detoxing.

  8. I was involved in a case many years ago where not only was the whole family into home colonics they were forcing the children to have the procedure against their will. And to top off the colonic crazy the family was into the healing properties of hydrogen peroxide which they put in their drinking water and in the colon irrigation solution. Sometimes this sort of weird is passed down in families like a religion and the folk involved are real believers who distrust medical doctors.

    And for everyone who’s 50 or will be soon it’s time to get your colonoscopy scheduled! And when you do you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing science based one way colon irrigation!

    1. I’m sure for guys giving our prostate gland a bit of loving could warm us to the experience of a colonoscopy.

      Good point about children, non consent to procedures that could be harmful should be restricted and where any debate about how hermful they are is important.

    2. Don’t forget the IV Demerol… I’ve had two of these. The prep (2-3 days before, when you start the “science based one way colon irrigation”) is much worse than the procedure, mostly because due to anxiety I got very little sleep the night before and as soon as the Demerol kicked in, I was out like a light.

      It does take a few days to get your normal bacteria back, but not as bad as an extensive course of antibiotics.

      (Disclaimer: All data from a patient sample size of one.)

        1. I don’t know if I’d use the word “blow” given there was no gaseous involvements with the cleansing process. (TMI time) In fact it was a rather odd thing to have clear liquid running through the system by the end of the process and not having any of the typical accompanying discomfort of being sick.., clinically speaking that is.

          And while I didn’t find the prep that big of a deal I did have three polyps removed that were quite likely going to turn into cancer down the road, so I’m very happy to have had the procedure. And because I have an uncle and a great grandmother who had colon cancer and the polyps were consistent with a genetic predisposition, I’ll have the pleasure of a colonoscopy every three years in the future. Also it should be noted that a colonoscopy is the only cancer screening procedure that is also preventative and reduces the likelihood of colon cancer forming after any polyps are removed. This is not something to put off because of fear or embarrassment given the potential benefit. And yes the IV drugs were juuust fine and I was able to wake up a few times and watch the procedure on the big HD screen the doctor was using.

      1. Hell, all I remember was an evening of induced diarrhea, followed by a long Demerol nap. I’m fully willing to wait the ten years for the next one, however.
        Considering the potential for actual physical harm, I think it is a valid issue if the group wants to go there.

    3. I’ve been reading that the colonoscopy has been oversold. It has never been shown to be a better screen than the sigmoidoscopy it largely replaced. ( I think when the time comes, unless the evidence change drastically, I’ll opt for the less invasive procedure.

  9. SanDeE*(Sarah Jessica Parker): So, what do you think?
    Harris(Steve Martin): I think it was a total washout.
    SanDeE*: God, it really clears out your head.
    Harris: Head? Head? You should go back in there and tell them they’re doing it wrong. Well, it was a great lunch and enema, thanks.

    From L. A. Story, while leaving a spa after a high colonic.

  10. What do you think? Does this sort of topic qualify as something that we should focus our attention on? Or are there more important issues? And how do we determine importance?
    Is this where we are now? So spooked by all the bloviating over what skeptics ought to do and what they are not to do that everything gets run up the flagpole?
    Can we please stop listening to outside voices that have decided that feminism is not easy enough to define, or religion is to apt to offend, or enemas aren’t serious enough to be allowed in skepticism. They can do it their way, I can do it my way, and you can do it your way. They don’t like it they can refute it, rather than insist on a change of topic, or go fuck themselves!
    The only people that count when deciding what topics qualify on this blog are Rebecca and staff and, to a much lesser extent, us readers.
    You decide what is worthy. END. OF. STORY.

    1. Tch! At least colonics have concrete NUMBERS that we can use as evidence of how it hurts people. Meh, with feminism, it’s all nebulous and deals with peoples’ ANECDOTES! That’s not scientific at all!!!111eleventy-one

  11. Would you agree that when alternative medicine practitioners are discussing toxins they are often speaking out of their ass.

    Ok, I promise that is the last one.

  12. I’m confused. This seems like a perfectly valid topic for skepticism. It’s based on scientific evidence where the harm of a procedure outweighs the benefit (if there is any benefit). It’s been brought up before (amongst other ‘detox’ discussions), and will be brought up again. Are there folks saying this isn’t fodder for skepticism?

  13. (from when Stewart Lee’s talking about seeing loads of US stand-ups all opening with the same joke)

    My dad’s a skeptic and my mom’s a new ager, so when I see a cup of coffee I don’t know whether to drink it, or shove it up my ass!

  14. I think the problem is that a lot of skeptics, like me, eventually suffer from stupidity fatigue. There is so much nonsense and playing nonstop whack-a-mole with it gets tiring that a lot of the time I prioritize what’s worth confronting and what isn’t. This is an example of it. I knew it was utter nonsense to begin with and this just verifies that.

    1. Stupidity fatigue is a good term.
      I get burned out too, and I get discouraged.
      But the differance is, you are not telling anyone else that this doesn’t qualify.
      The last few weeks have just pressed my buttons with people in the movement telling others how and what they should think and throwing around accusations of bad skepticism this or not the right kind of that simply because you disagree.
      I’m sorry to shit on this poop joke party; I just… [Harumph]

  15. Have a patient with an intractable disease. Mom is using the ‘Gonzales method’ which is an offshoot from the earlier ‘Gerson method’, which employs juicing, pancreatic enzymes, and coffee enemas among other modalities. When she’d originally mentioned it to me, I’d never heard of the Gonzales method (popular in alt med cancer clinics), so I did some research, found out what it was about (and the concerns with it), and re-approached the subject with her. She said ‘of course we’re not going to do the coffee enemas’…because that’s just a little too crazy. Feeding her kid handfuls of pancreatic enzymes without scientific support seemed perfectly reasonable, though. I’m always surprised at what is just alternative enough to be appealing, but not too alternative. Somehow, you get the butt involved and it crosses the line (which, honestly, I’m happy about). BTW, Gonzales method was actually involved in an actual clinical trial for pancreatic cancer and was found to be shockingly unethical. Just sayin’.

  16. Some things are funny, whether one is 2 or 82 years old and the derri-area is one of those things. From pants falling down, to seeing someone fall on their ass, poop jokes, rectal exams…all funny when it happens to someone else! BUTT…I do think the subject of colonics is serious, and a topic for discussion among skeptics. It’s funny and it’s not.

  17. I’ve got a chili recipe that will ‘detox’ your colon, clean out your sinuses, and in case of zombie attack can be used as fuel for your emergency generator. And it doesn’t require cramming anything up your butt.

      1. Ground beef, peppers, ground pork sausage, peppers, chopped onion, peppers, minced garlic, peppers, chili powder, peppers, cumin, peppers, a couple of diced tomatoes, peppers, a spoon of peanut butter, peppers, one cinnamon stick on a string, peppers, salt and pepper, and peppers.

          1. But not TOO many peppers. :-)

            Gotta put them on skewers and roast them over an open flame to scorch the outside, then drop them in a plastic bag, in order to get the skins off. I like to use at least 5-6 different kinds, including a couple of habaneros. I don’t go in for any of them stunt peppers.

          2. Does it include Guatemalan Insanity Peppers, grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum?

  18. ANYTHING that mentions detox runs right into the “grates my tits” category. Especially when I see some celeb waxing lyrical about it. All you’re succeeding in doing is starving yourself, or stripping your body of needed functionality.

    1. “grates” “waxing” “starving” “stripping”
      That was the most cringe worthy collection of adjectives I’ve ever seen in a post.

  19. How common is this, exactly? How harmful is it compared to other alternative medicine thingies? Exactly how much of a risk of renal failure / liver toxicity / electrolyte imabalance / etc. is there?

    I’m just thinking… I’d be pretty invested in something like this if it were the case that huge numbers of people were doing a lot of harm to themselves being duped by a huge number of charlatans. But I’m thinking… why be more invested in this particular issue than on the whole alternative medicine idiocy as a whole? Especially if it’s only a small number of particularly gullible people experiencing a small risk of harm to anything other than their wallets. I’d rather focus on trying to educate people about “alternative medicine” in general and about questioning what “treatments” they buy into.

    But then again, where do I draw the line between “huge number” and “small number”?

    1. I think this is why we tend to spend more time on anti-vax and anti-homeopathy…larger numbers of people being harmed. A smaller number of folks will object to more fringe practices…footpads, colonics, etc. But that ‘smaller number’ of users out of the huge population is a surprising number of people. There’s a colonic therapy place down the street from my office (the “Good Morning” clinic). Heck…I don’t want to talk about poop stuff (personal preference). And not every skeptic has to be involved in every issue. It might not warrant a panel at a big conference. But I think it remains in the rubric of skeptical discussion. And, as someone interested in science-based evaluation of alt med, I think it’s useful to be aware of the evidence against this practice.

      1. Well said. Thank you!

        I definitely agree, and I think I feel generally the same way. I REALLY don’t like poop and poop related subjects and would personally like to stay away from them, and I’m not sure it’s THE most important issue in the homeopathy debate (I think addressing the whole myth of “detox” in general, for example, is something I’d love to put my energy into and would like to see panels on), but I also think it is a worthwhile discussion and that it should be studied and the information and science should get out there.

    2. But then again, where do I draw the line between “huge number” and “small number”?

      Between Number 1 and Number 2?

      (Sorry, sorry, sorry. Bad Buzz! Bad!)

  20. I’m thinking the best approach might be to highlight these slightly more ‘fringe’ activities during broadside attacks on the underlying woo. So when talking about the myths of de-tox, bring up colonics as the sort of absurdity that taking detox seriously and without some form of skeptical analysis leads to. Use the squick factor to your advantage as an attention-snaring method: “The same thinking behind the detox pill phenomenon is also causing people to pump coffee. Through a hose. Into their butts.”

    Joe Schmoe might not get the import of a double-blind, peer-reviewed study. But coffee-up-the-butt? Yeah, he’ll comprehend THAT right away.

  21. My $.02: Any topic is appropriate for skeptical discussion… if it is discussed skeptically. (And vice versa, of course.)

  22. …raisins and yams? People are bloody bonkers!

    I mean, I can see calabaza added the last couple of minutes, or maybe a malanga fritter on the side. Back to the lab!

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