Coffee enemas are nothing new, but a recent story about how one Florida couple became hooked on these enemas has cast a spotlight on this alternative health technique. Here’s what experts and scientific research says about the risks and benefits of coffee enemas.
How do you take your coffee?
Enemas were used during ancient times by the Egyptians, Chinese, Babylonians, and Greeks, although it’s likely coffee was not their liquid of choice. In fact, there are many other types of healthful enemas, as are mentioned below.
Coffee enemas reportedly were first used during World War I when German medics discovered that coffee was more effective than water when used as an enema to help with pain relief after surgery on wounded soldiers. Subsequent research of the pain-reducing abilities of coffee resulted in published reports that coffee enemas helped open up the bile ducts, which facilitated the removal of waste and toxins from the body.
This caught the attention of Dr. Max Gerson, best known for Gerson Therapy, a controversial alternative treatment for cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases. Coffee enemas are an essential part of Gerson Therapy.
According to the Gerson Institute, coffee enemas increase the ability of the liver to detox the body by stimulating an enzyme in the liver (glutathione-S-transferase), which helps remove free radicals (cell-damaging molecules) from the body. Coffee enemas reportedly also can increase the flow of bile.
Other reported benefits of coffee enemas are their ability to boost peristalsis, which helps eliminate material from the bowels, and also hydrate the colon, another benefit in moving stool through the bowel. For individuals with cancer, use of coffee enemas are said to help remove toxins associated with chemotherapy and the cancer itself.
When you drink coffee, you absorb the caffeine and other components in coffee (e.g. antioxidants, palmitic acid, theobromine) through your digestive tract. Caffeine can raise heart rate, cause increased urination, and restrict blood vessels.
When you have a coffee enema, these substances are absorbed by the portal venous system, which transports them to the liver, thus bypassing the stomach. Once in the liver, the organ processes the caffeine and indirectly raises glutathione (a potent antioxidant) levels via palmitic acid.
It also should be emphasized that enemas (but not necessarily coffee enemas), when used correctly and for specific health issues, can be helpful for managing constipation, candida infections, headache, skin problems, hemorrhoids, indigestion, bloating, and other health issues. However, a knowledgeable healthcare professional should be consulted before performing an enema for these and other reasons.
Warm filtered water is the suggested liquid to use for enemas. Under the guidance of a healthcare professional, a limited amount of natural ingredients may be added to address specific health issues, such as apple cider vinegar, probiotics, red raspberry leaf, and burdock root.
Risks of coffee enemas
Not everyone who tries a coffee enema will become as addicted to the practice as the Florida couple, who were featured on TLC’s show “My Strange Addiction.” These individuals reportedly give themselves 100 or more enemas per month.
However, there are other risks associated with coffee enemas. Risks of coffee enemas include internal burns from using coffee that is too hot and puncture of the intestinal walls. A JAMA article from 1980 noted at least two deaths associated with coffee enemas.
Several articles have been published regarding the risk of acute colitis and proctocolitis (inflammation of the colon and rectum) associated with coffee enemas. These cases may be associated with chemicals in the coffee beans, the temperature of the coffee used, and other factors.
Research on coffee enema benefits
One published scientific article on coffee enema benefits appeared in Human & Experimental Toxicology in July 2012. The crossover study involved 11 healthy individuals who were randomly assigned to receive either a coffee enema three times a week for six visits or to drink coffee twice daily for 11 days.
After both groups completed their assigned interventions, there was a washout period before the two groups switched to try the other intervention. Blood samples were collected throughout the study and tested for antioxidant factors.
The scientists did not observe any advantages associated with either drinking coffee or having a coffee enema in regards to antioxidant levels (glutathione) or antioxidant capacity.
The bottom line
Enemas can be a helpful technique to address specific health problems and symptoms. Be sure to consult a knowledgeable healthcare professional before you try any type of enema, especially a coffee enema, as there are other alternatives you can consider that may be more suitable for your needs.
Arai T et al. Rectal burn caused by hot-water coffee enema. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy 2008 Nov; 68(5): 1008
Eisele JW, Reay DT. Deaths related to coffee enemas. JAMA 1980 Oct 3; 244(14): 1608-9
Gerson M. The cure of advanced cancer by diet therapy: a summary of 30 years of clinical experimentation. Physiological Chemistry and Physics 1978; 10(5): 449-64
Keum B et al. Proctocolitis caused by coffee enemas. American Journal of Gastroenterology 2010 Jan; 105(1): 229-30
Lee CJ et al. Coffee enema induced acute colitis. Korean Journal of Gastroenterology 2008 Oct; 42(4): 251-54
Teekachunhatean S et al. Antioxidant effects after coffee enema or oral coffee consumption in healthy Thai male volunteers. Human & Experimental Toxicology 2012 Jul; 31(7): 643-51