- Learn what to expect from your colonoscopy prep
- Find out what laxatives are commonly used for the prep
- Discover how a colonoscopy cleansing creates opportunities for healthy living (beyond the test results!)
A colonoscopy could save your life. This medical procedure allows doctors to find and remove early signs of colon cancer before it becomes a problem, take tissue samples, or capture images of the inside of your colon.
To ensure a successful colonoscopy procedure, you need an empty colon (aka large intestine).
Your doctor will give you a very specific set of directions to follow for the colonoscopy prep. We’ll take a closer look at those in this article. We’ll also look at the effects and benefits of over the counter (OTC) colon cleanses, what to watch out for, and the steps you can take to keep your colon as “clean” and healthy as possible.
What does a bowel preparation for a colonoscopy looks like
You may find the preparation for the procedure to be quite strict. The rules developed have been found to produce the best imaging results. So, as a patient, you should always do as your doctor instructs.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions. Simply, you and your doctor want this particular medical procedure to catch any dangers to your health. If you are going to ask for alternatives, just make sure you have a good, well thought out reason – and be willing to adapt.
What you probably won’t be adapting is what you eat.
What you’ll eat as part of your colonoscopy prep
What you eat will depend on how close you are to your scheduled colonoscopy.
For example, three days before the procedure, you will be told to avoid high-fiber foods like seeds, nuts, multi-grain bread, and fresh fruit.
The day before your colonoscopy, you don’t eat any solid foods. You will be restricted to a clear liquid diet that includes:
- White grape juice
- Apple juice
- Clear broth, a fat-free broth
- Coffee or tea, but without milk or cream
- Clear beverages like a ginger ale
- Gatorade, without red dye
- Plain jello and popsicles that do not have red food dye
In addition to this clear liquid diet, you will also have an over-the-counter bowel preparation mixture you will need to take.
Typical recommended bowel preparation for colonoscopy
When at your doctor’s office, the doctor or nurse may give you a document with colonoscopy prep instructions. It will explain the diet, what kind of clear liquid diet you should follow, and the liquids you can drink.
It will also recommend several ingredients to create your own bowel prep for colon cleansing. For example, the Cleveland Clinic in Florida recommends:
- 64 oz of a sports drink like Gatorade® (no red coloring), Propel®, or Crystal Light®. Sugar-free versions are acceptable for those with diabetes.
- 3 Dulcolax® tablets
- 238 grams of MiraLAX® powder, or generic polyethylene glycol 3350
You might hear this referred to as the MiraLAX® Gatorade® bowel prep. You mix the MiraLAX® and Gatorade® together, stirring or shaking until the powder is completely dissolved.
Generally, you’ll be asked to follow a split dose approach. You drink a glass of water with the three tablets. Then, two hours later, you drink an 8-ounce glass of the solution every 10 minutes until it’s gone. Depending on the time of your procedure, a split dose may have you further split your drink mix in half – drinking half the night before and then half a few hours before your scheduled time.
In some cases, your doctor may give you instructions to take a single dose of magnesium citrate hours before your colonoscopy.
Fortunately, drinking clear liquids up until midnight the night before your procedure is usually fine, though you should always confirm with your doctor.
Ingredients you need to know in over-the-counter laxatives for bowel preparation
As the general colonoscopy prep uses the same approach, there are three ingredients you need to know:
Polyethylene glycol 3350
Branded as Miralax®, this chemical is an osmotic laxative. It holds water in your colon to soften your stool. It also stimulates the colon to increase your number of bowel movements.
There’s been a lot of conversation in recent years over this particular laxative. This chemical contains ethylene glycol, a chemical the CDC notes “is a useful industrial chemical found in many consumer products, including automotive antifreeze, hydraulic brake fluids…”. HOWEVER, ethylene glycol and polyethylene glycol are two distinct chemicals. And research has found polyethylene glycol 3350 safe for human use.
Even so, if you find yourself having a reaction to it, contact your doctor. Researchers have recently reported that some individuals experience immediate hypersensitivity to it.
And as a chemical laxative, you should limit use as much as possible. You can develop bowel dependence, a condition where you need it to stimulate colon motion to simply go normally.
This is the active ingredient in Dulcolax®. It’s a stimulant laxative that increases your number of bowel movements. Typically, it is recommended by doctors only for short-term use.
Like other chemical laxatives, frequent use can cause bowel dependence.
This is a saline laxative used to retain water and soften stool. Guidance for this laxative says not to take it for more than a week.
Effects you can expect from colon cleansing for colonoscopy
You will experience diarrhea. Between the Miralax® and Dulcolax®, your bowels will be stimulated to clear out any waste that might remain.
And for the procedure, you want as little stool left as possible. This ensures a better image and success for the colonoscopy. (And after everything that you went through for it, you will want maximum success!).
But the cleanse for a colonoscopy is aggressive and harsh. As a result, it comes with other side effects that you should consider:
- Irritated bowels. The laxatives you take will make your colon work, and you may feel nauseous – or even vomit – during the prep.
- Skin irritation or inflammation around the anus. You’re going a lot and the skin can get irritated. There is also a potential for a hemorrhoid to occur.
- Loss of beneficial gut bacteria. Flushing your colon so quickly can result in the loss of vital gut bacteria. For good health, you will want to replenish these as soon as you can after the procedure.
Finally, you will have an opportunity. Despite all the unpleasantness of the cleansing and the procedure, your colon will be cleansed. If you were looking to make a healthy lifestyle change, now is an excellent time.
You don’t need to go back to the same behaviors that may have caused so much waste to collect in your bowels.
Are there alternative ways of cleansing for colonoscopy prep?
You may be wondering if there are alternative ways to prep your bowels for a colonoscopy. For example, do you really need to take Miralax®, or could you take another cleansing agent?
Yes, there are a lot of colon cleansing alternatives available.
Simply put, however, you need to ask your doctor. The standard preparation noted above for a colonoscopy has become commonly accepted. You may find the medical group performing the procedure may be unwilling to do so if you don’t follow the prep instructions as directed.
For this medical procedure, you may be better advised to follow the instructions:
- Stick to drinking clear liquids.
- Take the Miralax® and Gatorade®.
- Follow the dose recommended by your doctor.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t get the most out of this preparation…
Make a change and improve your health
You will be hungry after your procedure and may be inclined to gorge on a cheeseburger. You may want to think twice.
If you often suffer from gas and bloating or irritable bowels, now is an excellent time to start the healing.
Try some vegetable broths or a probiotic soup like miso to begin repopulating all the beneficial bacteria that were cleared out. You could also take a probiotic supplement like Flora Infused. You might supplement with an algae supplement like Algae Infused. It supplies clean nutrition and supports detoxing, helping remove toxins that may remain in your gut even after the cleansing.
You have a lot of opportunities to improve your gut health – take advantage of it!
One way to do this is natural cleansing.
The benefits of a natural colon cleanse
It’s a little funny.
Many alternative health professionals warn against the presence of waste buildup in the bowels. They say there is a need for regular cleansing. If you do a little online research, you’ll see mainstream authorities contradict these claims. But then, when it is time for your colonoscopy, you need to clear your colon of any excess waste that may be present.
And not only do you need to use an aggressive laxative preparation, but you need to start prepping by adjusting your diet a week in advance.
Fortunately, natural bowel cleansing can be done gently. And you can do it regularly. Depending on what you use, you may be able to do it daily.
The benefits of a “clean” bowel make it worthwhile too. They include:
- Increased energy
- Better immune response
- Weight loss and greater control over your weight
- Relief from gas and bloating
- An improved mood
- Clearer thinking
- A reduced risk of colon cancer
You can eat foods that help cleanse the bowels, enjoy detox soups, or take a supplement. If you do decide to supplement, look for natural ingredients. For example, Cleanse Infused Plus features oxygenated magnesium, enzymes, and herbs that help soften stool and heal your gut.
Cleansing every day may not prevent your regular colonoscopy. It will, however, give you peace of mind as you live a healthier life.