is receiving a lot of attention these days - articles appear frequently on topics ranging from solving problems of 'irregularity' to preventing colon cancer. Other diseases of the colon, with varying degrees of severity, can have a profound effect on a person's quality of life, such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulosis, and ulcerative colitis. The good news is that there is a lot we can do to promote good colon health.
The large intestine consists of the ascending (right) colon, the transverse colon, the descending (left) colon, and the sigmoid colon, which is connected to the rectum. The appendix is a small finger-shaped tube projecting from the ascending (right) colon near the point where it joins the small intestine.
Digested food enters the colon from the small intestine as a semisolid. As food moves through the colon, the colon removes moisture while it forms waste products, or stool. Muscle contractions in the colon push the stool toward the rectum. The rectum is about 6 inches long and connects the colon to the anus. Stool leaves the body through the anus. Muscles and nerves in the rectum and anus control bowel movements. The many bacteria that inhabit the healthy large intestine can further digest some material, aiding in the body's absorption of nutrients. These bacteria also make some important substances, such as vitamin K and B vitamins.
The colon is the first organ to be fully developed in the fetus - and conversely, a high percentage of degenerative disease begins in the colon.
The colon has been described as our "second brain." We are learning that more and more psychological and emotional issues are tied to nutrition and digestion than ever previously thought. The nerves in the digestive tract connect to the brain via the vagus nerve. There are more than 100 billion nerve cells in the gut - even more than in the spinal cord. We get "butterflies" in our stomachs when we're nervous; we have nightmares with indigestion; and we can't concentrate when we're nauseous. All of this is because of the brain-gut connection. Therefore, what we eat can have major repercussions on our mood and behavior as well as our health.
While there are differing opinions as to what constitutes sufficiently frequent bowel movements, I believe, and several experts agree, that one bowel movement a day is not enough. According to Dr. Michael Cutler, the healthy person has no more than 3 meals in his system at any one time, and each of those meals should be in a progressive state of elimination, moving smoothly through the body.
Poor digestion is indicated if stools are shorter than 6 inches in length. A good elimination is a firm stool, light in colour (unless you have eaten beets or greens or other dark coloured fruits or vegetables) that floats and has no odour 5 (although a floating compact stool can also indicate high fat consumption). Adequate fibre in the diet (at least 34-40 grams per day) is key to healthy stools.
is one of the most common problems affecting the colon. It occurs when the colon absorbs too much water or if the colon's muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, causing the stool to move too slowly. This causes the stools to become hard and dry. Common causes of constipation include:
- too little fibre in the diet
- lack of physical activity
- some medications
- irritable bowel syndrome
- changes in life or routine such as pregnancy, aging or travel
- abuse of laxatives
- ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- problems with intestinal function (chronic idiopathic constipation)
At the opposite extreme, is diarrhea, or loose watery stools. A person with diarrhea usually passes stool more than 3 times a day. Acute diarrhea commonly lasts 1 or 2 days and clears up by itself without special treatment. Some of the more common causes of diarrhea include:
- bacteria - consumed in contaminated food or water, e.g. Salmonella, E. coli.
- viral infections
- food intolerances, e.g. lactose intolerance
- parasites - consumed in contaminated food or water, e.gt. Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium
- reaction to medicines
- intestinal diseases
- functional bowel disorders, e.g. irritable bowel syndrome
Symptoms such as gas, bloating, changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain may be symptomatic of other problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis (small pouches in the lining of the colon that bulge outward through weak spots).
Blood in the stool could be symptomatic of a stomach ulcer if the stool is black, or of a duodenal ulcer, cancer, or hemorrhoid if red.
The following are essential for the maintenance of a healthy colon:
- a healthy diet - in particular, a diet high in fibre, fresh fruits and vegetables, low in saturated fat, and with lots of good quality water (see our March 2009 newsletter)
- avoid processed foods, fast foods and refined carbohydrates
- avoid contaminated food and water
- adequate physical activity
- avoid dehydration - drink lots of water, and replace both fluid and electrolytes lost during diarrhea with broth and soups that contain salt, and juices, soft fruits or vegetables that contain potassium.
- calcium helps protect against the development of colon polyps, which are precursors of cancer. However, note that calcium can cause constipation, which can be offset by consuming calcium and magnesium together.
- consuming fish and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish reduces risk of colon cancer.
- screening for colon disease with a fecal occult blood test, or colonoscopy can identify early stage disease when it is easily treatable and curable.
- see a health professional if you have unexplained changes in bowel habits or any sign of bleeding.
- supplement your diet with extra fibre and a good quality probiotic to promote a healthy colon.
Since the colon plays such an important role in our lives, I recommend colon cleansing twice a year to keep our 'sewage systems' running smoothly. Please contact me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.
1. The Merck Manual of Medical Information Home Edition. Berkow R, Beers MH, Fletcher AJ eds. New York: Pocket Books, 1997.
2. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Colonoscopy. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIH Publication No. 09-4331, November 2008.
3.National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Constipation. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIH Publication No. 07-2754, July 2007.
4. Cutler M. Colon in Crisis, The Secret Source of Disease. Wasatch Research Institute, 2004.
5. Schumacher T, Schumacher Lund T. Cleansing the Body and the Colon for a Happier and Healthier You. USA: 1997.
6. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Diarrhea. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIH Publication No. 07-2749, March 2007.
7. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIH Publication No. 09-1163, July 2008.
8. Calcium keeps on working against polyps. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2005;23(5):3.
9. Consuming fish and omega-3s reduces risk of colorectal cancer. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2008;26(6):1-2.
These newsletters will help you make better choices for better health. The choices that you make today can either have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. Begin by choosing better. It is a step toward longevity.
Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic