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The History of Enemas

Enemas have been around for centuries, in fact as early as 1500 B.C. and have been mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, a medical document which is now preserved in the Leipzig Library in Germany.  The 20 metre long and 30 cm high document mentions colon therapy among other treatments for a range of diseases.  Even in these early times, Egyptians believed enemas were a routine treatment for many every day and some serious health problems caused by poor dietary habits.

Papyri from Berlin, Kahun, Hearst and the British Museum are filled with formulae, prescriptions and symbolic representations of enemas, suppositories and colon cleansing using castor oil.

Enemas have been practised by primitive tribes in Central America, the Amazon and some parts of Asia.  Many of these were part of medical practices exclusively performed by priests.  On the other hand in China, colon cleansing was an integral part of Taoist training.  Chang Tsung Cheng, a physician from the Sung Dynasty in the 10th Century, wrote about the therapeutic benefits of colon cleansing.

In the western world founding fathers of medicine like Hippocrates, Paracelsus and Galen prescribed enemas for colon cleansing.  Surviving Central and South American Indian tribes continue to use colon cleansing practices from the ancient times even today.

In their book “Medicinal Plants”, written in 1880 Robert Bentley and Henry Trimen, documented how enemas were used with herbs like fenugreek and Trigonella foenum-graecum, a plant which the Romans imported from Greece.  An adapted form of enema was used in pre-revolutionary France as an after-dinner routine to ward of disease and to improve the skin complexion.  It is believed Louis XIV’s secret to staying healthy for his entire life was the use of enemas, which he used over 2000 times in his lifetime.

In the United States, colon cleansing treatment was popular early in the 20th century.  Many physicians in  the 1920’s  and 1930’s  used enemas as a standard treatment procedure in hospitals. It was only in the 1950’s that the use of enema therapy started to decrease until its resurgence at the end of the 20th century.

It is interesting to know that American Indians used their ingenuity and constructed a syringe made from a hollow leg bone and animal bladder.  Pre-Columbian South Americans used latex in what is believed was the first rubber enema bag.  Enemas have also been mentioned in literary works by some famous authors like Aristophanes and Shakespeare.