Colon cleansing, which is also called colon hydrotherapy, is generally not required or recommended for healthy people. Using enemas or colonic irrigation, taking herbal supplements with laxative effects or over-the-counter laxatives may be used to partially cleanse the colon in certain situations. Taking chemical laxatives by mouth with large volumes of liquid will temporarily clean, or flush, the entire bowel. All of these methods are often done at home using nonprescription products. However, the safest and most natural way to maintain healthy colon function without disturbing gut flora is to increase fiber in the diet and stay hydrated.
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Preparation for a colonoscopy aims to make 95 percent or more of the surface area of the colon viewable by the doctor during the procedure to check for precancerous growths or other abnormalities. The doctor's preprocedure protocols allow you to safely do this at home. Typically, a week before the procedure, you begin a low particulate diet, eliminating seeds and nuts. The day immediately before the procedure, purging involves drinking large volumes of liquid containing chemical ingredients -- bisacodyl (Dulcolax, Fleet) or polyethylene glycol (MiraLax or GoLytely) or both -- that increase bowel movement so the intestine and colon contents are efficiently eliminated.
Cancer patients or others whose pain is managed with opioid drugs often experience constipation. Many drugs, such as morphine or oxycodone, slow normal movement of stool through the bowel, which causes the problem. The use of enemas, including coffee enemas, can cause damage to the delicate tissues of the colon. Safer methods, including laxatives, to trigger bowel reflexes and movement can be useful. Rectal enemas -- either with dilute salt solutions or phosphates in a volume of less than a cup -- can directly stimulate the colon. Always check with your doctor and follow all directions provided when introducing these substances into the body.
Certain plants and plant extracts are known to have laxative effects, particularly hot peppers. Some traditional medicine preparations have been evaluated in clinical trials and found to be safe. Daikenchuto -- a Japanese herbal powder extracted from dried Sichuan pepper, ginger, ginseng and maltose powder -- has been used by people with small bowel problems or radiation-induced bowel damage. Hemp seed extract is a Chinese herbal medicine used to treat constipation. Other herbal laxatives, such as psyllium (also found in Metamucil), cascaras sagrada and senna, are often used, but serious allergic reaction, drug interactions and major medical complications such as hepatitis and liver failure have been reported with these. Consult your doctor before using herbal products.
The most natural -- and, arguably, the best -- way to cleanse the colon at home is to regularly eat a diet high in natural fiber. Soluble and insoluble fibers, some of which are slowly degraded during the digestive process, are found in a healthy diet: bran, oats, foods made with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Prunes and kiwi fruit are fruits with natural fiber known to be particularly effective in reducing constipation. Increasing dietary fiber intake, in addition to drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough exercise, will help avoid constipation and maintain good colon function.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Acta Cirurgica Brasileira: Comparison of Colon-cleansing Methods in Preparation for Colonoscopy
- Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology: Randomized Trial of Gatorade/Polyethylene Glycol With or Without Bisacodyl and NuLYTELY for Colonoscopy Preparation
- Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology: Validation of a New Bowel Preparation Scale for Measuring Colon Cleansing for Colonoscopy -- The Chicago Bowel Preparation Scale
- Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility Emerging Pharmacologic Therapies for Constipation-predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Constipation
- Family Practice Notebook: Constipation Causes
- Global Healing Centers: Are Herbal Colon Cleansers Safe?