Flushed: No ifs or ands, just butts

Peggi Gallant's Arlington Avenue office looks much like a typical massage therapist's room. Warm lighting, aromatic products, and a long padded table impart a relaxed ambience to the space. But a device on the wall with two dials and bags of disposable tubing provide a clue that this office serves a different purpose. While Gallant is a licensed massage therapist, her current clients come to her for another service: colonic hydrotherapy, known more commonly as the enema's famous cousin, a "high colonic."

Why would people willingly let someone probe them where the sun don't shine?

It's a simple health issue, Gallant explains. She herself suffered a "major health crisis" two decades ago. "I had no energy, couldn't sleep, stopped menstruating for a year, and my hair started falling out by the handful," Gallant recalls. Despite such distressing symptoms, doctors could find no cause for her illness.

"At that point," says Gallant, "I decided to go looking myself." After experimenting with a variety of supplements, Gallant says, she stumbled upon colonics, which use up to five gallons of water to flush out the large intestine, commonly known as the colon. (Enemas use only several quarts.) The results, she says, have been nothing short of miraculous.

In addition to ending her fatigue, headaches, and other ailments, Gallant says there have been other amazing benefits. "My skin," she boasts, "looks better now than it did when I was a teenager."

Fourteen years ago, Gallant decided to take what she had learned and put it into practice for others. Her colonic hydrotherapy business, Renew, was born. Over those years she has developed a program for cleansing the system that involves several steps in addition to the colonics.

Brushing the skin with a dry vegetable brush, eating a diet of raw vegetables, and using "the rebounder," a trampoline that gets the circulation going, are all on the to-do list for Gallant's clients. In addition, she encourages her clients to refrain from putting cheeks to porcelain when defecating.

"Humans were not meant to sit on toilets," she explains. "We were intended to squat." For people who are "nimble enough," Gallant says, squatting atop a toilet is the healthiest way to pass waste. "It puts more pressure on the colon," she says.

Many clients claim Gallant's advice has been life-altering.

In August, 2002, Melinda Elliott was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided against typical treatments of chemotherapy and radiation (though she did have a lumpectomy), opting instead to focus her energy on "building my immunity and detoxifying my body." Gallant, she says, was there to help.

"She's open to all levels of healing," says Elliott, a minister and the former director of a now-defunct Ivy organization, the Academy of Re-remembering. "When you're releasing on the table," says Elliott, "you're releasing a lot of your past." Holding onto the past, she believes, is what led to her illness.

Though Elliott's tumor recurred in February, she says she's sticking with the holistic treatment program of colonics and a diet of raw vegetables. And while she isn't out of the woods yet, she says, "I'm doing great."

She's not alone. Back in 1997, Lorna Carpenter (who spoke on condition that we use a pseudonym) says health problems kept her house-bound.

"I kept getting chronic illnesses," she says. Making matters worse was her environmental sensitivity. She says "odd smells" or exposure to chemicals made her so sick and fatigued she couldn't function. Having consulted doctor after doctor, Carpenter says, she turned to Gallant in desperation. Six years later, Carpenter says her life is back to normal and she attributes it to the colonic hydrotherapy.

The procedure itself is simple. Gallant provides a "child-sized" plastic speculum, which the client self-inserts while lying on her side on the table. Gallant than hooks two tubes to the end of the speculum, one for introducing fresh water, and the second, larger tube, for expelling flushed waste which can be viewed as it travels. Examining the output, Gallant says, is vital because it allows her and the client to see how the digestive system is working.

"We look for things like undigested food and mucous," Gallant explains. Based on her observations, she can make suggestions for adjustments in diet.

The waste tube is connected directly to the sewer system, so Gallant notes that the procedure entails no smell or contact with fecal matter.

The procedure is offputting to some especially men, Gallant says, adding that 75 percent of her 15 to 20 clients each week are female.

"I know I don't want any part of it," says colon cancer survivor Emmett Boaz. "I would lump it with primal screams and argon boxes and the rest of the craziness." Despite the fact that colonics have been around for centuries, Boaz says it would take a lot to convince him of their efficacy. "I require a very high standard of proof on medical matters," he explains. "There's an awful lot of quackery out there."

Doctors at both UVA and Martha Jefferson-affiliated gastroenterology practices decline to comment on colonic hydrotherapy. "We don't offer that service here," says an office spokesperson at the Martha Jefferson Digestive Care Center, "so the doctors have decided it would be best not to comment."

Jessica Willocks, spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association, says her organization does not take a stance on colonic irrigation because there's not enough research on the topic.

Gallant says she believes the reason colonics are not widely used in western medicine is the time and cost required for the procedure. Gallant charges a sliding fee of $50 to $100, "whatever a person feels they can pay," she says. A full colonic takes at least an hour to complete, and Gallant says series of up to 10 or 12 over a period of a few months is often necessary for full results. By contrast, she notes, many medical office visits last 15 minutes or less, and the patient leaves armed with a prescription.

For Lorna Carpenter, however, there's no prescription that could ever take the place of a colonic. And while she admits to having been squeamish before undergoing her first treatment, she says the benefits have far outweighed any embarrassment.

Would she recommend it to others?

"Oh yes," she answers, "very much so."