What Is an Enema and Should You Use One?
We got a gastroenterologist's perspective on regular enema use.
Depending on your enthusiasm for detoxing, you may have tried adopting a clean beauty regimen, phasing out friends, or eliminating sugar from your diet. But even if you've committed to an Ed Sheeran–level phone fast, you might still find one detox method extreme: giving yourself enemas on the reg.
Lately, there's been buzz around using enemas to detox, but the practice is nothing new; enemas have been around for hundreds of years. The tool is used to inject fluid (usually clean water) into the bowels through the rectum to encourage BMs. You can buy them OTC to treat constipation, and doctors sometimes use them to prepare for treatment of other health issues (clearing the bowels before a procedure or X-ray).
Are enemas safe?
While enemas pose some risks, they are generally safe to use at home for occasional constipation, says David Novick, M.D., gastroenterologist and author of A Gastroenterologist's Guide to Gut Health. "There is a very slight risk of either injuring the anal canal or the rectum and a very minute risk of causing a perforation of the rectum," Dr. Novick says. Enemas can also cause an electrolyte imbalance, he says. "Those reservations aside, for most people using common sense and using them infrequently, I think [enemas] are safe." For the record, though, using an oral laxative cuts out those risks, and tends to be just as effective, according to Dr. Novick. (FYI, here's how often you should be pooping.)
How often can you use an enema?
Don't pick up a value pack just yet. While enemas aren't too risky, using them for a regular detox isn't necessary and could backfire. "I don't normally recommend regular colon cleansing or routine home enema use," Dr. Novick says. "The colon is designed to store a large amount of stool. That's what it's supposed to do, so for most people, I'm not convinced that cleaning it out offers any benefit." In other words, your colon self-cleans every time you poop. (That's why you shouldn't waste your time with getting regular colonics to detox either.) By going overboard with cleansing your colon, you could end up getting rid of the good bacteria in your colon, Dr. Novick adds. If you're over 50, you should be getting regular colonoscopies-otherwise, you're fine to just let your colon do its thing.
Another reason not to make enemas part of your regular routine: Using them too often can make your bowels become dependent on the extra assistance. You could end up making yourself constipated in the long run. Using enemas or other laxatives all the time can "lead to a loss of normal function" of the bowels, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. Bottom line: While using an enema at home infrequently for constipation is low-risk, don't make them a habit.