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Healthy Habit or Health Hazard: What You Need to Know About Coffee Enemas

Popularised by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Beauty and Wellness Detox Guide, the at-home coffee enema is something of an enigma – we’re here to demystify the practise and unpack the purported benefits, dangers and share a few reasons you might want to stick to simply drinking your coffee.

You’re probably used to pouring coffee into your mug in the morning, but there’s another place celebrities are recommending you put it – and it’s not pretty. So, what exactly is an enema? Well, it involves the injection of fluid into the rectum and up to the colon. The intestines are then stimulated, resulting in a bowel movement. Enemas are usually used to treat constipation when other methods have fallen short or they may also be administered in the leadup to a colonoscopy – the key element here is that these procedures are ordered, supervised and administered by medical professionals. It’s also worth noting that the substances most often used for enemas are not coffee, but rather mineral oil, saline solution or milk and molasses – and it’s worth noting that doctors don’t generally advise the use of an enema outside of a medical need for it.

Coffee enemas involve the use of brewed coffee, and while it’s only recently that we’ve seen an explosion of interest in the procedure, it actually dates back to early 1900s Germany. Physician Max Gerson developed the coffee enema as a potential cancer treatment, with the belief that it stimulates the production of a health-boosting antioxidant known as glutathione, with a number of other practises combined to create what was known as Gerson therapy. While this may sound like a research-backed treatment, medical professionals emphasise this is not the case, with many warning against using enemas for general health upkeep as advised by Gwyneth and a myriad of other celeb health enthusiasts. In fact, Gerson’s theories that the coffee enemas dilate bile ducts and lead to the excretion of toxins were never substantiated by researchers.

But there are still a number of people purchasing these at-home enema kits with the goal of “cleansing” and “de-toxifying” their colon. Some people that these enemas can remove built-up toxins in your digestive system – and this concept is not a new one. Beliefs around toxins accumulating in the intestines and slowly poisoning us date back to ancient times, with Charles-Jacques Bouchard, a French pathologist, finally giving the concept a name back in 1887. He called it autointoxication, and while there is great merit in delving into the world of digestion, inflammation and the gut microbiome, the concept was ultimately discredited by modern scientists. But we do know now how bacteria in the gut can affect our whole body – from the physical to the mental health side of things, though it’s been a long journey to get to this point. As recently as 2005, some researchers and scientists found the notion that the gut could affect mental health to be contentious. But we’re starting to see the payoff of studies and research around the topic, and the conversation is slowly steering in the direction of gut health and how the foods we eat, the environment we live in and the level of stress we manage can all contribute to its health – and therefore our overall health. Now back to coffee enemas – while the practise sounds good in theory, the reality poses far more risks than benefits, which remain unproven. Let’s take a look at why you might want to reconsider that at-home enema kit – while it may be endorsed by some of the big names in Hollywood, your doctor has good reason to disagree.

The risks involved in a coffee enema

 Many an ER doctor can ascertain the dangers of coffee enemas, particularly as their popularity grows, we’re seeing more and more cases of at-home enemas gone wrong cropping up. One of the biggest problems with this increasingly popular practise is that the people who use them are unsupervised and often uninformed in the area of proper hygiene and safe usage of these enema kits. Some people may mishandle the equipment or practise poor hygiene, leading to the injection of bad bacteria or other pathogens into their rectum and colon, which can then lead to infections. It’s also worth noting, that even people who receive enemas with medical supervision can experience adverse effects, including potential dehydration from runny, excessive bowel movements – for those in a medical setting, they’ll likely receive the care they need, but those trying out a DIY enema won’t have this same proximity to treatment in the case of something going wrong.

There’s another danger many overlook when it comes to these at-home coffee enemas, and that includes the burn risk when using hot coffee. There are many cases of burns sustained by coffee enemas, resulting in everything from rectal perforation to septicaemia and proctocolitis – this is a condition associated with cramping, diarrhoea and inflammation. This takes your classic coffee burn to a new level! We know of course how dangerous septicaemia can be – also known as sepsis, this condition can be deadly. It occurs when chemicals are released into the bloodstream in order to fight pathogens, then leading to inflammation in the body. It can then result in anything from organ damage and failure to death. Yikes. So, it’s pretty clear to see that you might want to steer clear of these at-home enema kits and only seek out the procedure from a qualified medical professional if it’s deemed necessary by a doctor. It’s not quite in the league of daily health practises like your morning yoga or breathing exercises!

If you’re having trouble with constipation and excess gas, you might want to try other means of reducing your symptoms – for instance, consuming more fibre-rich foods, getting your daily exercise, drinking more water are all great ways to get those bowels moving. It’s also worth heading down to your doctor to rule out any causes for your symptoms, along with getting the treatment – safely! – that you need.

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