A Brief History of Coffee Enemas

More

I rarely give medical advice, but: I do not recommend this.

coffeeeeeee main 615.jpg

People have been talking about coffee enemas since the February 8 episode of My Strange Addiction featured a couple that said they're "addicted" to them:

Humans have been colon cleansing since the dawn of time. Doing so with coffee isn't a new thing either. Back in 1982, Dr. Maurice Shils and Mindy Hermann wrote in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine about cancer trends:

No one has been able to demonstrate the existence of specific "toxins" as a clinical factor in human cancer. Preoccupation with "detoxification" and "purification" has led to the advocacy of coffee and other enemas to cleanse the bowel of toxins.

So, even 30 years ago toxins were a thingBut it goes back further. 

The coffee enema is part of the still-popular Gerson therapy, developed in the 1930s. "How the Gerson Therapy Heals" explains the reasoning behind coffee enemas and how they "stimulate the glutathione-S-transferase system by 700%" and "cleanse the blood." It says the enema route is essential because "patients cannot be expected to consume the therapeutically necessary daily amount of at least one liter of coffee by drinking it." (Although that was written in 1990. A liter is 33 ounces, and now we have Starbucks' 30-ounce trenta.)

The FDA and many physicians and health boards have meanwhile spoken out against all types of colon cleanses. Any time you're filling your colon like that, there's a small chance it will pop like a balloon. Nature even reported a case of procto-colitis with ulcers related specifically coffee enemas. In 1980, the Journal of American Medical Association reported two fatalities in "Deaths Related to Coffee Enemas."

On the other hand, Trina from My Strange Addiction says, "I love the way coffee enemas make me feel."

Infections and explosions aside, that's a huge amount of caffeine. Depending how much is absorbed in the rectum compared to a similar amount via the stomach and small intestine when you drink coffee, Trina is consuming the oral equivalent of 33 cans of Red Bull every day. So yes, "euphoria." 

Like we considered in "How Much Caffeine Before I End Up in the E.R.?" humans can potentially tolerate tons of caffeine -- in electroconvulsive therapy, for patients with depression, up to 2,000 mg is sometimes given intravenously -- but many of us go to emergency rooms for much less. 

The nice thing about ingesting coffee by the traditional route is that it can still be a calming ritual and a mutual interest with your partner, even when it doesn't involve buckets or hoses, or lying on the bathroom floor four times a day, or "transitioning from floor to toilet seat as quickly as possible."


Jump to comments
Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

 
 
More

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In