The ancient Egyptians were a clever lot. Besides figuring out how to construct the pyramids, they are cited as inventing the first water clocks, door locks and paper. They were also among the first to attempt to cure human disease and injuries.
It can be argued that the very origins of Western medicine began on the banks of the Nile, thousands of years ago.
A Form of Spiritual Detoxification
Among the medical beliefs held by the ancient Egyptians is the concept of autointoxication – basically, that after food enters the body, it rots, just as it does when left outside. And, like many things that turn rotten, the ingested material turns poisonous, and that the poison seeps from the bowels into the rest of the body, causing maladies such as fevers and infection.
To counteract the effects of autointoxication, the Egyptians invented colon cleansing. Later, the ancient Greeks adopted a similar idea and similar treatment.
It was thought by some that, by the time food material entered the large intestine (colon), it had turned toxic and that it was therefore vital to remove it as quickly as possible.
Pre-scientific medicine being what it was (think leeches, cupping and eye-of-newt) the practice of colon cleansing appears to have varied in popularity up until the 19th century. That was when people started to apply the methods of science to human health and thereby discovered things such as the importance of sanitation and the role of microscopic critters (germs) in explaining infectious disease.
Wrong-headedly, some would argue, these revelations regarding human biology led many leading lights in the medical community to re-assert the concept of autointoxication. Some believed that by the time food entered the colon, it had turned toxic and it was vital to remove it as quickly as possible, before the toxins could enter the bloodstream. (Indeed, some zealous surgeons even advocated and performed removal of the colon altogether.) Between about 1880 and 1919, it was common in the medical literature to find recommendations of colon cleansing as part of a comprehensive health-maintaining regimen.
Alas, the very investigative methods that first supported the idea of autointoxication eventually disparaged it, as no evidence was sustained to support it. By the 1930s, the practice of colon cleansing faded.
Perhaps due in part to the phenomenal increase brought by the Internet in general accessibility of medical information (including "alternative" medicine), interest in and acceptance of autointoxication has been rekindled. This has resulted in remarkable growth and promotion of products and services aimed at natural colon cleansing. (A recent Google search of "colon cleansing" reveals over 3 million results.)
Although the overwhelming consensus of conventional healthcare providers is that colon cleansing has not demonstrated efficacy in treating any disease or disease symptoms, the procedure appears relatively innocuous.
Therefore, little organized effort seems to have developed to oppose the treatment. In contrast, many adherents have come forth with anecdotal evidence in support of colon cleansing, citing benefits such as clearer skin, increased mental focus, a strengthened immune system and greater overall vitality.