History of Enemas

Enema is the procedure of introducing liquids into the rectum and colon via the anus for medical reasons, alternative therapies, and also for erotic purposes, but this is not a new procedure. Enemas, also called enematas in their plural form, were formerly known as clysters from the modern era to the 19th century, an old-fashioned term to describe this cleansing method using a clyster syringe and administered for symptoms of constipation, stomach aches, and other illnesses, with dubious effectiveness.

In those days, the patients were placed kneeling and with the buttocks raised (or lying on the side) to allow their servant or apothecary to insert the syringe nozzle into the anus and depress the plunger to inject the liquid remedy into the colon.

Because of the embarrassing aspect for women, by the time syringes equipped with a special bent nozzle were invented, enabling self-administration to eliminate the embarrassment. From the late 19th century to the present, clyster syringes were replaced by enema bulb syringes, bocks and bags, but the history of enemas can be traced back to ancient times when people implemented enema treatments in the rivers by using a hollow reed to induce water to flow into the rectum.

The first record mentioning a colon therapy is an Egyptian medical document discovered by Ebers, dated as early as 1500 B.C. and nowadays one of the great treasures of the Leipzig Library. This papyrus in a state of wonderful preservation is 20.23 meters long and 30 centimeters high and shows that the Egyptians employed emetics, purgatives, enemas, diuretics, diaphoretics and even bleeding to treat diverse diseases.

Another Egyptian papyri, showing some of the first signs of importance are the Kahun, Berlin, Hearst and British Museum papyri, published in recent times to document the ancient origin of medical therapies. Such papyrus are motley collections filled with charms, incantations, magical formulae, prayers, prescriptions, suppositories, fumigation, enemas, poultices and plasters among many other symbols richness of pharmacopoeia inherit and the use of opium, hemlock, the copper salts, squills and Castor oil for colon cleansing.

Ancient primitive tribes in the Amazon, central Africa and remote parts of Asia practiced enemas in the rivers, usually as part of magic-medical practices performed by priests or shamans and colon cleansing therapeutic treatment were an important part of Taoist training regimens and also observed from different approaches in Hinduism. In the 10th century, Sung Dynasty physician Chang Tsung-cheng wrote extensively on the therapeutic benefits and colon cleansing procedures, but other methods were also mentioned in the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine back in the 3rd Century B.C.

Hippocrates, Galen and Paracelsus, who are recognized as the founding fathers of Western medicine, described, practiced and prescribed the use of enematas as colon therapy and also ritual enemas were practiced in Mayan Ceremonials and many other Central American and South American Indian tribes, in fact some survival tribes have continued their traditional colon cleansing practice to the present day.

In 1880, Robert Bentley and Henry Trimen documented in their book "Medicinal Plants" the use of enemas associated with some herbs, in particular fenugreek, a widely used plant knows as Trigonella foenum-graecum, imported from Greece by the Romans in ancient times, including description or the therapy, properties and figures of this and other principal plants employed in medicine. The use of fenugreek as a medicinal agent is now obsolete in Europe and the United States, but in India the seeds are largely employed by the natives, both as food and medicine, including colonic therapies

In the United States the popularity of colon cleansing treatments were remarkable in the early decades of the 20th century, when colon irrigation machines were commonly seen. During the 1920's and 1930's years, enemas were regularly used as a standard practice among most physicians and implemented as common treatment in most hospitals. It was not until the 50's when the use of enema therapy started gradually to decrease before the colon cleansing therapy resurged by the end of the 20th century.