I recently delved into the bowels of coffee enemas.
I knew that Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP were happy to shill for Big Wellness and sell over-priced, harmful coffee enema kits and of course there are many “integrative” doctors firmly on the groundless coffee enemabandwagon, but honestly I really thought coffee enemas were something people spoke about but never used or perhaps tried once and then their rectum sat them down for a little conversation.
Was I naive! There is a Facebook group, Bottoms Up, dedicated to the devotees of coffee enemas…
Don’t listen to that mean old Dr. Gunter!
Several coffee enemas aficionados were not shy about passing their superior knowledge on to me via Facebook and Twitter, claiming “coffee enemas were used in WW2 for pain management because of lack of supplies for injured soldiers.”
Right, the morphine couldn’t get through to the front, but the coffee could?
And that “coffee enemas stimulate the vagus nerve which helps the body made gluthione [sic].”
I’m guessing they mean glutathione?
Sigh. That’s not really how it works. That’s not how any of it works, but never mind.
Was this rumor based in fact? I had to know. I’m fascinated at the lengths people will go to justify their clearly biologically implausible yet harmful therapies. Also, Trump’s been President for a year and I needed a distraction.
For those of you who don’t know, coffee enemas were mainstreamed by Dr. Max Gerson in the 1920s. His original “regimen” (and I use that term lightly) involved a vegetarian diet, weird supplements, raw calf’s liver, hourly glasses of fruit and vegetable juice for 13 hours a day, and an enema fetish. This is supposed to “detoxify” the body. It doesn’t. His regimen has never been evaluated and is, of course, stupid.
It wouldn’t be surprising that a quasi-medical therapy made it’s way into military medicine (or any of medicine) in the 1930s or 40s. There were no ethics review boards, studies were not performed as they are today, and of course we really had a very basic understanding of physiology compared with what we know today. Treatments were also very limited. The first dose of penicillin wasn’t administered until 1940. Enemas were recommended for many things.
Did they work (apart from treating constipation)? No. Did they stop people from coming back to the doctor and thus producing the illusion of a cure? Probably.
I contacted Adam Montgomery, a military historian. He found no mention in several sources, but contacted the U.K. Association for the History of Nursing and apparently one historian of nursing recalled coffee enemas being used as a stimulant in patients with shock, to boost circulation until they were re-hydrated. Nothing in writing though.
I then reached out to The Museum of Military Medicine in the U.K. and the Assistant Curator was kind enough to reply! I hear my e-mail brightened up their day! The RAMC training manual from 1911s fails to mention coffee enemas, however, coffee enemas are mentioned in the World War II 1944 RAMC training manual.
I was so excited. I don’t know why, but I was!
Coffee enemas were considered stimulant enemas, apparently as a treatment for shock and also for poisoning.
This is a very bad therapy. First of all, six ounces of fluid even if it were all absorbed (doubtful) isn’t going to treat anyone’s low blood pressure. Secondly, coffee is not going to counteract any poisoning. Might it wake you up? I suppose some caffeine might be absorbed, but that isn’t going to really do much in the way of reversing an impending coma brought on by a poison or a toxin. It is true whole bowel irrigation has been recommended in some types of overdoses, specifically to remove undigested delayed-release tablets in cases where no other antidote is available, but that is copious fluid and not coffee.
There are a whole host of treatments that we used in the 40s that we now know are useless, or worse, barbaric. Obviously the frontal lobotomy, which shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1949, is a classic and tragic example.
So yes, coffee enemas were in a World War II medical manual, but not as pain relief but rather as undoubtedly ineffective treatment for shock and poisoning.
And as for the Merck Manual? Yes, coffee enemas were removed in the 1970s and not because of a Big Pharma conspiracy but because they don’t work. I mean honestly people. What drug sales were coffee enemas actually killing?
So please, keep your coffee well away from your rectum and in your cup.