YOU'RE going to get what done?" shrieks a friend when I mention that my Friday afternoon's plans include a colonic hydrotherapy session. "Does that mean that a tube ... ," he can barely finish the sentence, his face twisted in disbelief. Suffice to say that when it comes to having a tube inserted in your rectum – even if it does mean a myriad of health benefits – some of us Irish have not exactly been queuing round the block.
Colonic irrigation used to be the sole preserve of the moneyed and the health obsessed. Yet, after a sort-of revamp, 'colonic irrigation' was rebranded 'colonic hydrotherapy', and has grown steadily more popular. Celebrities as diverse as Elle Macpherson, Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Aniston are reported to incorporate colonics into their wellbeing regimes, while Simon Cowell is a vocal fan.
The simple principle is this: warm purified water is slowly brought into the bowel through a tube inserted via the rectum. The water is then expelled, taking with it old deposits of mucoid faecal matter, trapped gas, trapped waste and whatever else might have been festering in the colon for years; in some cases, up to 10 pounds of toxic matter. Not only is the waste expelled, the therapy is also known to tone and kickstart colon muscle function, too.
Frances Flannery, a certified nutritionist, nurse and detox practitioner has been providing colonic hydrotherapy treatments at Dublin Vitality Center since 2009.
"There is no average client; most generally, those who choose colonics are health conscious, mindful about their bodies, fit, aged 18-65 and are seeking to optimise their own health," she says.
"The most common reasons for treatment are IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), bloating, weight loss, constipation, fatigue, acne (both face and back), skin conditions and general detox. Many clients will have tried everything else with little success and happily find colonics may help."
"The colon is four feet long and, unlike an enema, a colonic clears the entire colon of impacted matter," she explains. "If present, mucoid plaque, a black hard impacted layer which can form due to ongoing impaction on the outer walls of the colon, may also be removed. Throughout the treatment, the colon 'drinks' or absorbs warm purified water. The colon is absorbing water all the time, which is why the liver is also given an opportunity to rehydrate.
"It gives the liver an opportunity to get a fresh flush of water and to dump its toxins which include excess hormones, medication, alcohol, food toxins and pollutants from the environment."
As for the idea that it can be beneficial for colon function: "When the colon is impacted, peristaltic action (the muscular function which moves matter along the colon) is restricted. One of the added benefits of the Harley Street Method (that we use) is that the client uses the colon muscles to gently release water, pushing the water (back out during the colonic).
This invariably exercises a muscle which may have become sluggish and weak, thereby restoring bowel function and muscular strength."
There are caveats, however. Those with Crohns Disease, colitis or hernia may not undergo treatment.
Devotees often talk of brighter skin, increased energy, less bloating, cleared sinus, better moods, a flatter stomach and even a better night's sleep.
Dublin Vitality Center uses the FDA-approved Harley Street Method, a new, less invasive spin on the tried-and-tested colonic method.
"The Harley Street method is exclusive to us in Ireland and makes life much easier in terms of privacy. The tubes are smaller, there's privacy in the room, and the nurse is on a bell, which means the client can be given privacy for brief periods.
There's no changing in front of anyone and no exposing of the body. People regularly say afterwards, 'I thought it would be much worse'."
Reclining back on something resembling a comfy dentist's chair, I'm wearing a medical gown and am covered with towels while the tube is inserted. There was definitely a brief moment of 'what have I gotten myself into?' at the outset but, thankfully, it's a fleeting sensation. And, as the water starts to enter my body, it's not so much uncomfortable as ... well, a slightly weird-feeling.
At Dublin Vitality Center, treatment lasts for 40 minutes, during which I forget about the strangeness of the procedure and actually start to enjoy what I'm assuming is a cleansing sensation. Frances leaves me with a stack of literature, but I find myself oddly drawn to the tube that carries away the water from the body.
While it's by no means a method of diagnosing existing conditions, keeping an eye on what's being released from the body gives the health practitioner an indication of any potential imbalances. Bubbles in the water indicate an excess of gas, while instances of what look like white fluffy clouds is often indicative of Candida overgrowth.
Undigested food particles also hint at a sluggish digestive system, and that the client should take a digestive enzyme along with every meal.
"You can advise clients very well on their nutritional changes by what you can see," explains Frances. "It must be clear that colonics may be beneficial in treating a condition but we do not claim to cure a condition definitively. We don't diagnose any conditions of course, which should only be done by a medical doctor."
In recent months, the treatment has come up against criticism. Opinion is divided on the merits of the procedure. In an article entitled The Dangers Of Colon Cleansing published in the Journal Of Family Practice recently, Dr Ranit Mishori noted that patients didn't appear to be getting any tangible benefit.
"Despite colon cleansing's long history and current popularity, the literature does not support its purported benefits," he wrote.
Another school of thought has put the procedure under fire for upsetting the natural flora of the body, and removing good bacteria in the gut along with the bad. Technically, this is true, yet Frances administers a probiotic to clients to rebalance this.
"Every health practitioner and doctor knows that diarrhoea, laxatives and antibiotics can dramatically effect colon flora," explains Frances.
"Since all trained colonic practitioners administer probiotics post-treatment, it's a positive treatment for good bacteria as flora grows and flourishes better in a clean colon rather than in one which is impacted.Good bacteria begin to repopulate approximately two to four hours after taking a probiotic."
Some might think that a laxative serves essentially the same function. Not so, according to Frances: "It is well known that prolonged use of laxatives can weaken the bowel where the colonic actually restores or retrains the bowel by working its muscles and building strength."
Others again have proclaimed that the colon is best left to clean itself as nature intended, and that those who have regular colonic hydrotherapy run the risk of having their body become too 'reliant' on the process. "As the body eliminates ideally three times a day, it's common sense that a course of three colonics could not cause the body to become dependent on it unless of course one had them on an ongoing basis," reasons Frances.
The debate on the relative merits of colonic hydrotherapy rages on, but in the meantime there's little disputing the post-treatment results.
"How do you feel?" asks Frances as I climb off the table. I mumble something about the experience being 'intense', but I definitely feel that bit lighter and clear-headed. There's a definite spring in my step. I've been told to avoid white carbs, big meals, dairy products and alcohol for 48 hours after the treatment. The best bit? I don't even want or crave them. Perhaps it's because I've spent the afternoon being mindful of my digestive health, but all I want to eat are simple, good, healthy foods.
In the days after treatment, more than one friend comments on my glowing skin. Is it a coincidence? Is the spring in my step merely a placebo effect? Either way, I'm on board. Anything that ups the feelgood factor to this degree has to be worth investigating. When you live life in the fast lane, as most Irish people do, something that purports to reboot the system from time to time can only be a good thing.
The Dublin Vitality Center in Blanchardstown currently offers colonic hydrotherapy at €70. www.dublinvitalitycenter.com