I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t hate preparing for a colonoscopy.

Typical doctor’s orders let us drink only clear liquids for a day beforehand and then have us downing powerful chemical laxatives that often cause cramping and bloating before causing us to spend the night visiting the bathroom again and again.

Shouldn’t there be a better way?

I’m happy to say that there is.

Though it’s not something that your regular doctor is likely to tell you about.

It’s a much more natural and pleasant alternative!


What got me to think about the nastiness of colonoscopy preparation—and to see whether there’s a better alternative—is a new study that landed on my desk recently. Prior research had shown that 25% of colonoscopy patients don’t adequately prepare for the procedure—they typically follow some of the prep instructions but not all of them.

Well, this new study, from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, showed how dangerous that can be. When average-risk patients didn’t do the entire prep, some stool remained in their colons, obscuring the doctor’s view by more than 10%, on average. As a result, about one-third of those patients were asked to redo or resume the prep and return for a second colonoscopy. So a good number of patients who didn’t properly prep had to have the procedure done all over again. On top of that, these patients may have prevented their doctors from detecting any cancerous polyps early—and that’s a scary thought.

I’m sure that everyone wants to do an adequate job prepping—it’s just that the stuff that you have to swallow can make you feel bloated and give you cramps, among other uncomfortable side effects! Are there natural ways to prep that make the process less “cringe-worthy”? Yes, said Leo Galland, MD, an internationally recognized leader in integrated medicine. He offered me some dos and don’ts for precolonoscopy cleansing. If his advice differs from what your doctor recommends, bring in this article and have a conversation with him or her about what’s best for you.


Consider using magnesium citrate, a natural mineral laxative. Magnesium citrate (a magnesium salt of citric acid) is a more reliable purgative than the polyethylene glycol that’s often prescribed, Dr. Galland said. “My favorite is called Natural Calm, which is pure magnesium citrate powder with no additives,” said Dr. Galland. “Magnesium and citrate are normally found in the body and are also derived from food, so the powder is all natural. Plus, it’s no more expensive and not any harder to find than traditionally prescribed laxatives.” How come more doctors don’t prescribe Natural Calm? “Marketing,” said Dr. Galland. Start drinking it about 5 pm on the day before your colonoscopy is scheduled (you mix three tablespoons of the powder into eight ounces of hot water, then let it cool and drink it). “It goes down best if you add ice and sip it through a straw,” said Dr. Galland. Repeat the dose around 10 pm, he said. Warning: If you have kidney disease, Dr. Galland warned, you shouldn’t take a magnesium-based laxative, because excess magnesium can accumulate in tissues, so talk to your doctor about alternative ways to prep for a colonoscopy.Another advantage to Natural Calm is that you may find that it’s gentler on your body, said Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew Rubman, ND, medical director of the Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Southbury, Connecticut. “Because an all-natural laxative has fewer additives, which can act as stimulants and irritants and cause inflammation in the bowel lining, you may experience less bloating and incontinence and fewer cramps.”

  • Schedule a morning colonoscopy. If you’re the first or second patient of the day, you’ll be more comfortable (read: less hungry) than others scheduled for later, and you’re less likely to have a long wait due to earlier appointments taking longer than scheduled.
  • Talk to your doctor about possibly taking an herb hiatus. Dr. Galland told me that some herbs and other supplements have laxative effects, but far more—including fish oils and vitamin E—can interfere with proper blood clotting, which is necessary if any colon polyps are detected and removed during the colonoscopy. Ask your ND and/or your MD whether it’s a good idea to stop any herbs and/or supplements (or lower your intake) a week before your colonoscopy is scheduled.