Most people probably wouldn’t be too pleased with the idea of sticking anything up their rear end. That feeling further intensifies as the idea of any foodstuff – including coffee – being pushed in the wrong way. Yet despite these rather natural apprehensions, coffee enemas have grown substantially in popularity. The idea of shoving something up your butt is, in fact, ancient, and has a long history of being a preferred method of healing for many naturopaths and medical practitioners before the invention and maturity of modern medicine. In fact, before other ways of getting certain substances into a person’s bloodstream were invented and turned into reliable methods (like the IV drip), enemas and other forms of rectal administration were a preferred method. There are cases when that’s still a prescribed way of getting someone the help they need.
But coffee enemas are not exactly ancient, nor are they medically renowned. Instead, coffee enemas are generally infamous. The idea behind a coffee enema is that it will help your liver detoxify your body while washing out your colon of deadly toxins, and giving you a boost in the production of an antioxidant called glutathione. I say production because it’s one your body produces, and those are far more potent than any of the antioxidants you ingest through food and drink. Except that these claims are half-truths or lies. Coffee enemas are effective in helping someone work through a particularly stubborn constipation, and they’re likely to give you a mood boost (because you’re sending caffeine straight into your body through your other end). But they don’t do much for patients suffering from poisoning, nor do they have any noticeable effects on the liver or any of the body’s detoxification systems.
No, Enemas Aren’t Detoxifying
New-age naturopathy is mostly a long list of debunked and disproven old medical procedures from back when we thought diseases were caused by an imbalance of the humors and the dead created a foul miasma that made people sick. Long before microscopes, the concept of the germ, and the invention and discovery of penicillin and modern-day vaccination, we used a very wide variety of strange rituals to bring out healing, usually with little to no benefit.
Everything from making women insert jade and mercury into their genital cavities to covering wounds in cow dung or prescribing the ground up remains of a dead animal, both Western and Eastern medicine was based on superstition, misunderstanding, and no shortage of dangerous or erroneous myths and traditions.
One such concept popular back in the day before the scientific method was the concept of autointoxication – basically, the idea that the waste you produce and store in your rectum prior to defecation is a cause for many, many diseases, and that clearing your body out of said waste and giving your colon a regular cleansing is the only way to prevent yourself from getting sick due to “toxicity” in the body.
There are several things wrong with this. First, the waste we produce is just that – waste – and there’s a perfectly natural way of expelling it. If you can’t, then you have a serious medical problem. But most people who defecate normally have a healthy colon. If you’re worried about your colon, eat more fiber and avoid processed meats. Getting a colon cleansing isn’t really going to lower your cancer risk if you continue to eat sausages on a daily basis, and it definitely isn’t healthy to rely on enemas for defecation when you should be digesting and passing your bowel movements in a natural manner.
If you ingest a deadly toxin, an enema will do nothing to save you. You will die without proper medical attention, which begins by evacuating the contents of your stomach and providing vital support to your organs while an antitoxin does its work in the bloodstream. If you drink alcohol or other similar toxins, the liver does a good job of expelling these. Injecting coffee through the other end of your GI tract will not help the liver and does nothing to improve your body’s own detoxification.
Some modern quacks suggest that our daily lifestyles fill our bodies with toxins, while selling juice programs and enemas as a way to detoxify from industrial pollution and the like. While it’s true that the modern era has an effect on the human body, through plastics, pollution, and more, enemas do little to nothing to change that. Fasting or drinking vegetable juices won’t help your body expel plastic or fend off microparticles in the air. You can minimize the potential carcinogenic effects of environmental pollution by using all that money to move to a better neighborhood with better air quality, and further reduce your risk of disease by engaging in a healthy lifestyle, which includes lots of sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise: not juice reboots and scheduled coffee enemas.
No, They Don’t Cure Cancer
We can’t tell for sure if or when someone is going to have cancer, and while there are factors that increase someone’s likelihood or speed up the growth of the disease, every case is a little bit different. You could go your whole life drinking modestly, having a smoke every afternoon, and eating lots of meat, and eventually die at a ripe age of 84. Or you could be diagnosed with cancer in your early 30s, despite a modest and healthy lifestyle. These things rarely hit anyone who “deserves” it, and because treatment isn’t always successful or easy, cancer becomes one of the bitterest pills to swallow.
That’s why people often look outside of conventional medicine for alternative ways of providing healing, because it’s easier to think that the answer is somewhere out there in an ancient practice or esoteric tome, than knowing that there are some things we can’t change, and that life is unfair.
Then, when every once in a while, someone’s cancer goes into remission without chemotherapy – which isn’t at all unheard of – it becomes attributed to entirely unrelated treatments that were administered to countless patients beforehand, most of whom ended up dying of cancer anyway.
It’s a wholly depressing affair, but also a dangerous one. Telling people that unproven or disproven treatments like coffee enemas are a key to beating cancer veers them off the path of getting treated. Or, it gives them false hope that leads to anger and frustration, rather than giving them the time they need to come to terms with their end, and life out their final days with dignity and peace.
How Did Coffee Enemas Start?
Max Gerson popularized coffee enemas, on the basis of the disproven theory of autointoxication. He developed a rigorous therapy with migraine and tuberculosis in mind, involving enemas, juices, vegetarian meals, supplements, and other similar techniques. The basis of the program is that these techniques remove toxins from the body and correct chemical imbalances that are responsible for cancer.
Aside from cherry-picked anecdotes, there is no reliable or objective data proving that the Gerson therapy does anything in the fight against cancer. Eating a better diet is obviously good for the body, but there is no evidence suggesting “colonal irrigation”, or enemas, are in any way effective for anything except helping you defecate.
Can Coffee Enemas Cure Insomnia?
One of the more ridiculous assertions is that coffee enemas cure insomnia. Coffee enemas don’t change the way caffeine interacts with the brain once it enters the bloodstream, through the mouth or otherwise. That means caffeine is definitely not going to help you fall asleep when inserted rectally, so don’t be surprised if a coffee enema keeps you up rather than putting you to sleep.
What to Do with Coffee Instead
Drink it! Most of the benefits sometimes associated with coffee enemas are just the effects of a large dose of caffeine. Drinking coffee regularly already boosts your glutathione levels, gives you a mood and energy boost, and helps you regulate your day. Too much increases cortisol and leads to sleep disruption, so that’s no good either. But a few cups a day are likely to provide you with more benefits than downsides. And you won’t have to push it up your downside, either.