What is a coffee enema and why have they gained recent popularity?
Today I wanted to share an evidence-based insight into their use, in particular self-administered enemas, what they claim to treat and things you should consider prior to electing to have one.
What is an enema?
An enema involves injecting a liquid (or occasionally a gas) into the rectum via the anus to either administer medication or flush out colon contents.
Colonic irrigation is another procedure that has gained popularity recently. This is a similar procedure to an enema and involves administering a continual flow of liquid for minutes to hours, into the rectum to completely clear out the colon, rather than a single injection of enema fluid.
Enemas can actually be harmful to our health and quite dangerous, when not administered by a medical professional.
Are there any indications for the use of an enema?
There are some medical indications for the use of an enema. Sometimes an enema will be used by a physician to treat or diagnose various gastrointestinal diseases or disorders. A medical practitioner may decide that the use of an enema is indicated in order to deliver medication, to relieve constipation, to assist with bowel emptying, or for diagnostic reasons due to certain medical conditions. When indicated by your medical professional an enema should be safe to use, however they should not be used before consulting your medical practitioner.
There are many myths about the use of enemas and their benefits. Below I am going to discuss common myths around enema use.
- Many home enemas claim to detoxify the intestinal tract, liver, and/or gallbladder. They generally claim that a large amount of waste remains in your bowel and an enema is required to help clear this. It is important to know that this claim is not true and that you will generally only have a large amount of waste in your colon if you are constipated. However, even when you are constipated, your normal bowel movements will push the bowel contents through in the order that it came in. The use of an enema will only eliminate waste from any recent meals you have consumed, which is what occurs during a normal bowel movement.
- It is claimed that enemas are safe, however, while enemas can be a useful tool when used by a medical practitioner and clinically indicated, using enemas at home can result in many complications. It is important to note that if an enema is administered incorrectly it can cause damage to tissue in your rectum/ colon and result in bowel perforation or infections if it is not sterile. Long-term use of enemas can also result in electrolyte imbalances. Enemas may result in bloating and cramping and may affect the balance of microbiota in your gut, negatively affecting the good bacteria that reside in your gut resulting in digestive symptoms.
What is a coffee enema?
One very common myth that I wanted to shed some light on is around the use of coffee enemas.
Coffee enemas gained popularity in the 1920s where it was claimed that coffee enemas were more effective than a standard saline enema, due to the coffee being absorbed rectally and therefore being able to stimulate the liver. It was claimed that this stimulation of the liver would help to detoxify the body and cure cancer. It is important to note there has currently been no quality research proving that coffee enemas can improve health or disease.
When coffee is consumed orally (when you actually drink it), it can offer health benefits such as being high in antioxidants, however, there is no proven advantage to taking coffee rectally. Coffee enemas come with the risk that normal home enemas have, however, they also come with other complications such as the potential for rectal burns if the coffee is too warm, as well as the possibility of taking in too much caffeine compared to when having coffee orally.
Literature shows that individuals who opted for coffee enemas to help relieve constipation or for bowel cleansing often suffered from lower abdomen pain, blood in their stools, colitis, rectal burns, or perforation as a consequence of self-administered coffee enemas.  The consequences resulting from self-administered coffee enemas are generally attributed to the high temperature and/or high pressure of the enema fluid, chemical residues inside the catheter, and/or thermal injury caused by the catheter. Studies in animal models have also shown that caffeine has the potential to induce inflammation. The literature available on the safety and efficacy of self-administered coffee enemas clearly outlines that there are a number of potential adverse effects associated with self-administered coffee enemas, while their effectiveness is unclear.
At the end of the day, there are no proven benefits to using coffee enemas or home enemas. Enjoy drinking coffee in moderation. If you are suffering from constipation or are wanting to promote a healthy lifestyle ensure you are consuming a healthy and balanced diet that is full of fibre and made up of the five food groups. Ensure your diet contains at least 2 serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables per day, as well as wholegrains. It is also important to ensure that you are being physically active and drinking adequate amounts of water.
If you would like tailored advice around how to manage constipation, need help with your nutrition, are unsure of what to eat, or are after nutrition advice, book an appointment with our dietitian Laura Goodridge (Dietitian & Nutritionist) today!
DISCLAIMER: THIS BLOG POST IS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL ONLY. IT IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR MEDICAL ADVICE FROM A REGISTERED AND QUALIFIED DOCTOR OR HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.
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- Son H, Song HJ, Seo HJ, Lee H, Choi SM, Lee S. The safety and effectiveness of self-administered coffee enema: A systematic review of case reports. Medicine (Baltimore). 2020;99(36):e21998. Published 2020 Sep 4.
- Niv G et al. Perforation and mortality after cleansing enema for acute constipation are not rare but are preventable. International Journal of General Medicine. 2013:6;323–328.
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