- Coming Clean -

COMING CLEAN: Colon Health for Newbies

At 35 and without incident, I didn’t think much about my colon. That is, until my doctor recommended a colonoscopy.

person holding stomach

That rumbling coming from my stomach as I await the Thanksgiving feast? It might just be my colon.

I never really thought much about my colon until my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer eight years ago. Only recently did I learn that my great-grandmother had rectal cancer. And I really didn’t know much about the important role the colon plays in the digestive system until I read our 2010 piece, “Fiber: Why It Matters More Than You Think.”

You see, even with my mom’s diagnosis (and recovery), I figured I didn’t need to think about colon health until I was 50, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a screening for colorectal cancer regularly until age 75.

So it was a surprise that at my annual physical this summer, my doctor recommended one, given my family history. Sure, I’ll do one at 50.

“Well, the current recommendation for anyone at high risk of colon cancer [due to immediate family history] is screening at or by age 35,” she countered. “And you’ll be 35 in September.”

No!

I wasn’t so much frightened of the test itself, given that I’d be sedated (and generally, I have a high tolerance for medical procedures, blood draws, etc.). I was more concerned about the prep involved: I had been enjoying improved health from undergoing a Whole30, and this seemed like it would undo all my good work.

After all, the diet recommendations that begin three days prior to the test were low-fiber, including white bread and rice, even sugary foods like cookies. Really?!

I skipped the bread category altogether and stuck to overcooked vegetables and ground beef and scrambled eggs with oil or ghee. That part wasn’t too bad. Boring, yes, but digestible.

The day before prep was when all bets were off: Not only was I going off-plan by drinking Gatorade mixed with an entire bottle of Miralax (eek!), followed by 10 ounces of magnesium citrate, I was also not allowed to eat all day. And, oh, to think of my poor microbiome put through this prep and test, all that good bacteria I was wiping out after all that hard work to rebuild my gut! The horror! (And that horror was felt just at the thought, well before the laxatives kicked in.)

Being the good but slightly rebellious patient that I am, I researched for alternatives online and pushed back with my doctor. Can I drink coconut water instead of the Gatorade? Sure, that’s OK. Great! How about just senna tablets and Natural Calm brand unflavored magnesium citrate? Yes, to Natural Calm; no to the senna — it may not fully do the trick, they said, and my colon must be cleared out, otherwise I’d have to reschedule.

Alas, with my insurance window and thus proper coverage ending (note that plans won’t usually cover this under age 50, even as preventive, so consider boosting your HSA account), I proceeded with the dreaded Miralax.

The mixture itself was tasty with the coconut water, and even though I was drinking water all day, without food, I was terribly thirsty, so I probably would’ve enjoyed any concoction put before me. Even one with such a gross chemical as polyethylene glycol, the petroleum derivative of ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze. Sure, my bowels may be clear, but that doesn’t come without scrutiny for the product, which, just last year, the FDA questioned for safety when given to children.

If my kid shouldn’t take it, should I?

The procedure went fine, my test came back normal, but when the gastroenterologist — a handsome younger gent, mind you, not a caring motherly figure that I was hoping for — suggested I get one of these every five years, I took pause. For my part, more research is needed, and given the ever-changing cancer-screening guidelines, you can be sure I’ll be tuned in.

In the meantime, I’ll be showing my gut some love with more fermented foods, more fiber — and a side of turkey.

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