The Lowdown on Coffee Enemas

coffee enema
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An alternative treatment used to "cleanse the colon", a coffee enema involves introducing a mixture of coffee and water into the colon by way of the rectum. Proponents suggest that coffee enemas can aid in detox and clear potentially harmful substances from the body. 

Unlike colonics, which involve multiple infusions of water, an enema involves a one-time infusion of water. The water sits in the lower part of the colon for a short period of time, then is released.

While coffee enemas are sometimes administered by practitioners of alternative medicine, many individuals perform coffee enemas on their own at home.

Uses for Coffee Enemas

Coffee enemas are typically touted as a natural treatment for the following health issues:

In addition, coffee enemas are often used to boost mood, reduce stress, increase energy levels, improve digestion, and promote sounder sleep

Coffee enemas are also purported to aid in the treatment and/or prevention of cancer. To that end, it's commonly used as a component of Gerson Therapy.

The Research on the Benefits of Coffee Enemas

Despite their popularity, coffee enemas and their health effects have been explored in very few scientific studies. What's more, the available research indicates that coffee enemas may fail to offer significant health benefits.

For instance, a small study published in Human & Experimental Toxicology in 2012 provides evidence contrary to the claim that coffee enemas can increase the body's production of glutathione. A compound with antioxidant properties, glutathione is known to stimulate the excretion of bile (a substance critical for digestion).

Proponents of coffee enemas often name increased glutathione production as a key factor in the treatment's supposedly detoxifying effects.

For the 2012 study, 11 healthy participants either received coffee enemas three times a week for two weeks or drank coffee twice daily for 11 days. After a washout period, each participant then switched to the alternate coffee-based treatment. Results revealed that neither approach led to an increase in glutathione levels or in total antioxidant capacity.

However, a pilot study published in Clinical Nutrition Research in 2014 suggests that coffee enemas may be useful in preparing the bowel for endoscopy (a type of procedure that includes cancer-screening tests such as colonoscopy).

Side Effects and Safety Concerns

Coffee enemas may also lead to a number of serious complications, such as dehydration, pleural or pericardial effusions, infections, sepsis, salmonella, colitis, rectal or internal burns, perforation of the wall of the intestines, electrolyte imbalance, brain abscess, heart failure, and even death.

There have been two deaths related to coffee enemas associated with electrolyte imbalance caused by frequent enemas.

There's concern that coffee enemas may be harmful to people with certain conditions such as abdominal hernia, blood vessel disease, congestive heart failure, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, gastrointestinal cancer, heart disease, intestinal tumors, severe anemia, hemorrhoids, and ulcerative colitis.

The risk of side effects appears to increase if coffee enemas are combined with fasting.

In addition, coffee enemas should not be done by pregnant or nursing women, children, and people who have undergone colon surgery.

Like coffee consumed orally, coffee enemas can be stimulating and result in caffeine dependence. 

Conclusion

Due to the lack of research on the health effects of coffee enemas and considerable risks, coffee enemas cannot be recommended for any reason. If you're still considering trying it, it's important to talk with your primary care provider first. 

Sources:

Eisele JW, Reay DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas. JAMA. 1980 Oct 3;244(14):1608-9.

Keum B, Jeen YT, Park SC, et al. Proctocolitis caused by coffee enemas. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010 Jan;105(1):229-30.

Kim ES, Chun HJ, Keum B, et al. Coffee enema for preparation for small bowel video capsule endoscopy: a pilot study. Clin Nutr Res. 2014 Jul;3(2):134-41.

Teekachunhatean S, Tosri N, Rojanasthien N, Srichairatanakool S, Sangdee C. Pharmacokinetics of Caffeine following a Single Administration of Coffee Enema versus Oral Coffee Consumption in Healthy Male Subjects. SRN Pharmacol. 2013;2013:147238.

Teekachunhatean S, Tosri N, Sangdee C, et al. Antioxidant effects after coffee enema or oral coffee consumption in healthy Thai male volunteers. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2012 Jul;31(7):643-51.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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