Colonic irrigation is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

'You lie or your side in a little cloak they give you,' says one ex-irrigant who suffers from candida. 'And then they pump warm water up. . . well, you know where. It makes you feel very bloated and it makes you want to fart. Afterwards you have to sit on the loo for about ten minutes because it also makes your bowels very weak and you could potentially explode.'

Lovely. Most would prefer an enforced daily diet of bran bricks over having a tube introduced to one's nether regions. But colonic irrigation is considered a godsend by people who suffer with severe constipation and tummy problems.

'You feel terrific afterwards,' says Lawrence, a journalist who eats too much junk food.' During the session you can actually see the remains of long lost lunches whizz out in the clear plastic tube as they remove all the toxins from your body.

'Afterwards, it's like being in a drug induced state for about two hours. You feel light and full of energy. They sometimes give you a light alcoholic toddy like Bach Flower Remedy to ground you if you're feeling slightly lightheaded. I'd recommend it to anyone. It's a trip.'

Colonic irrigation is by no means new. 'It's as old as man,' says Jean Clarke, secretary for the CIA (Colonic International Association). 'It was practiced by Jesus Christ and the Yogis in India for centuries.'

The colon, she explains, is a holding centre for the body's waste. The idea behind colonic irrigation is to simply flush toxins out of the body to allow the body to heal. If the toxic load in the body is too high it will not eliminate toxins as quickly or thoroughly as it should. This can lead to malabsorbtion of nutrients and malnourishment. Body cells could get starved of nutrients and build up an environment of disease. Or so the theory goes.

People with constipation can suffer from sluggishness and depression as a result of an overloaded colon. 'After every meal, we should have a reflex to release the waste,' says Jean Clarke.

'But absolutely no one goes to the toilet after every meal they have. So what's happening to the two to three meals, plus snacks that we eat every day? Where is it all going?' Good question.

In practice colonic irrigation involves a small instrument with two tubes, called a speculum, which is gently inserted into the anal canal. One tube lets warm filtered water (up to 20 gallons) flow gently into the colon and another, slightly larger tube lets waste pass out. A massage is sometimes given to the patient's abdomen during this treatment, which can last about 40 minutes.

Medical experts stress that colonic irrigation has its drawbacks. 'The sides of the colon can actualy get stretched if you do this repeatedly,' says Mr Roger Leicester, consultant colo-rectal surgeon at St George's Hospital, Tooting. 'This is likely to alter the function of the colon and make it more dependent on colonic irrigation. You could achieve the same result just as effectively and more safely by oral purgatives. After all, you are designed to be cleansed from the top of the body down, not vice versa.'

BOTTOM'S UP

Jean Clarke, 50a Morrish Rd SW2 (081-671 7131) Mon-Fri 12 noon-7pm. By appointment only. Jean Clarke is a nutritionalist who combines colonic work with dietary advice. She charges pounds 50 for the first hour-and-a-half visit and pounds 35 for subsequent visits. 'I may

recommend six treatments over three months plus lots of work on the diet at first. But I don't encourage people to use colonics all their life. It should be used as a tool only when necessary.'

The Wellbeck Clinic, 689b Finchley Rd NW2; (071-435 0915) Mon-Sun 8am-8pm. By appointment only.

Specialists Mr Leor Cohen and Andrea Maunders work out of this clinic. Prices are pounds 50 for the first session, which can last up to two hours. This initial session includes dietary advice. The treatment includes herbal implants. Subsequent sessions are pounds 40 and the colonic treatment lasts 40-45 minutes.

The Hale Clinic, 7 Park Cres W1 (071-631 0156) Mon-Fri 9-am9pm / Sat 9am-2pm.

The Hale Clinic work mainly with patients who suffer from IBS, spastic colon and constipation. Sessions cost pounds 30 for 75 minutes. This includes a blood pressure check, dietary advice, a massage on the bowel and a 35 minute colonic treatment. All tubes used are disposable and the waste is incinerated. The clinic will not treat patients who have bulimia, rectal bleeding, abdominal hernias or recent colonic or rectal surgery.

Mrs Jeanne Vervialle, 38a Finborough Rd SW10 (071-352 7040) Mon-Sat 9am-6pm.

Sessions cost pounds 40 for an hour. Between 15-20 gallons of water can be used to flush out residue and you get an abdominal massage during treatment.

South London Natural Health Centre, 7a Clapham Common South Side SW4 (071-720 8817) Mon-Fri 9am-9.30pm / Sat 9am-5.30pm / Sun 10am-5.30pm.

Colonic hydrotherapist Bridgid Kirst offers irrigation for pounds 50 an hour and pounds 60 for 90 minutes if the session also includes another therapy such as lymphatic drainage or aromatherapy on the abdomen. All equipment is disposable.

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