What to Take Before a Colonoscopy

Peppermint was not “officially” discovered until 1696, but we’ve probably been using it for thousands of years. After-dinner mints are used to reduce the gastrocolic reflex, the urge to defecate following a meal. The stretching of nerves in the stomach triggers spasms in the colon, which makes sense because it allows us to make room for more food coming down the pipe. Peppermint, like in our after-dinner mints, relaxes the colon’s muscles.

When researchers took circular strips of human colon removed during surgery and laid them out on a table, they spontaneously contracted on their own about three times per minute. Isn’t that kind of creepy? But when more and more menthol from peppermint was dripped on them, the contractions still occurred but were not as strong.

If peppermint can relax the colon and reduce spasms, might it be useful during a colonoscopy, as first suggested 30 years ago? Colonic spasms can hinder the progress of the scope and cause the patient discomfort. So, researchers sprayed peppermint oil on the tip of the scope, and, in every case, the spasm was relieved within 30 seconds. Thirty seconds, however, is a long time when you have a scope snaking inside your colon. The next innovation was to use a hand pump to flood the entire colon with a peppermint oil solution before the colonoscopy, which caused the spasming colon to open up within 20 seconds. This is a simple, safe, and convenient alternative to injecting an anti-spasm drug, which can have an array of side effects.

Researchers saw similar results during upper endoscopy, with peppermint working better, quicker, and safer than drugs. Another study also found positive results when peppermint was mixed into barium enemas. But wouldn’t it be easier just to swallow some peppermint oil instead of squirting it up the rectum? Researchers looked at this alternative in a study using premedication with peppermint oil before colonoscopy. Just popping a few peppermint oil capsules four hours before the procedure sped up the entire process. Both doctor and patient satisfaction increased because reducing colon spasms can reduce pain and discomfort, as well as make the scope easier to insert and withdraw.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not to Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.


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Darlene Buckingham
Darlene Buckingham12 hours ago

"Then there are the side effects and complications, which can result in hospitalization or death, that occur in roughly 25 per 10,000 colonoscopy procedures. And while that risk is extremely small, it does means that, across the millions of people who receive a colonoscopy, thousands of will experience debilitating side effects, such as a perforated bowel or diverticultisis, which involves inflammation or infection of the colon wall."
Also as people age the risk of the test becomes higher even though more people as they age get cancer. These are all things to consider before going for routine colonscopies.

Darlene Buckingham
Darlene Buckingham13 hours ago

Remember a colonoscopy is a medical procedure and an invasive one. There are adverse effects and should not be done lightly. Having a better diet and taking care of oneself is the first line of defense before any test. People are becoming too dependent on testing and not enough on prevention. Testing does not prevent cancer. A healthy lifestyle and learning how to best deal with stress is a big part of cancer prevention.

Debbi -
Debbi -23 hours ago

I passed this article to family and friends. Having diverticulitis, it isn't something I should use.

ERIKA Syesterday

noted,thank you

Ron B
Ron Byesterday

Maybe Peppermint Patty will never even need a colonoscopy then. How old would she be in real life now...about my age?

Ruth Rakotomanga

The procedure I had seems to have been simpler than Sharon's. Took the enema medication the day before (without any diet restrictions that I can recall) and was not knocked out - in fact I could see the screen all the time. It was a bit painful when the scope hit a gas bubble, though.

william Miller
william Myesterday


tanzy t
tanzy tyesterday

ugh an 50

Sharon H
Sharon Hyesterday

This is misinformation. I had one in February and this is how it went:
I had to get a bowl prep from the pharmacy and the day before the procedure, I had to stop all solid foods after 8 in the morning but could still have clear liquids. At 3 PM, I had to mix one of the bottles with water to get 16 ounces, drink that, and the drink 32 more ounces of water within an hour. At 2:15 AM the next morning, I had to repeat with the other bottle of prep and could not have anything else by mouth. I had to be at the facility at 7:15 AM and they started the procedure at 8 AM. The put me completely out with the same drug that Michael Jackson OD'd on. When I woke up, I felt fine and in about an hour, got to go home.

Darlene B, you're wrong about it not being a necessary procedure because it's the best way to find the polyps that can turn into cancer. Everyone should have one done starting at age 50 and if no problems are detected, have a repeat every 10 years.

Christine D
Christine Dyesterday

An irrelevant article for me because I will NEVER have a colonoscopy...way too invasive and too much risk of damage.