What’s a major organ that is essential to your digestion — your colon.
As colon health and all things related appear to be creeping to the forefront, health experts offer simple suggestions for good colon health and warn about the possibilities of colon related diseases and colon cancer.
As the last five feet of your digestive tract, the colon is composed of several parts, including the colon itself and the rectum. This organ’s purpose is to absorb water, salts and minerals from the residue of digestion, which comes from the small intestine and the stomach.
The colon is very important in this process, but digestion begins in your mouth. When it gets to the stomach, other enzymes are released to continue that process. As the food passes, most of the absorption of the nutrients of food goes to the small intestine. From there it goes to the large intestine, and becomes waste – primarily undigested, watery fiber.
“As it passes through the colon, there’s a lot of surface area. Residue passes along the colon, water is absorbed out of the residue and by the time it reaches the rectum, it’s solid or semi-solid and held there until you have a bowel movement,” said Larry Bosserman, administrative director of the Clarian Health/IU Digestive Disease Center.
The old adage of individuals consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains and drinking plenty of water isn’t a myth. Eating well benefits the body in many ways, but is fundamental to good colon health. The Mayo Clinic further suggests eating a varied diet to increase the vitamins and minerals you consume, limit alcohol, stop smoking and remain physically active.
Bosserman states people who eat a high fat, high protein diet generally have more problems with their colon, like constipation, than people who eat high levels of natural foods.
Healthy digestion may sometimes be taken for grated, and most of the foods that are appealing are high fat and low fiber. People have also grown accustomed to fast and convenience, processed foods. Colon experts warn that not only can this create problems, but there are also diseases associated with bad colon health.
Diseases such as diverticulitis, food sticking to the intestine wall, or inflammatory bowel diseases such as Chrohn’s disease and colitis are unpleasant, yet doctors also warn of increases in colon cancer.
Colon cancer is related to polyps that develop in the colon; clumps of cells that develop on the surface of the colon. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the population has polyps in the colon. Over time those polyps can become pre-malignant and malignant.
Colonoscopies are used to discover polyps, remove the polyps, or to collect samples in determining malignancy.
“Colon cancer is the third most frequent cancer in terms of death. The primary reason for many people is it’s not discovered early. Many late stage cancers have grown out of the colon and invaded other tissues or the cancerous cells have gotten into the blood stream or lymphatic system and moved to other areas,” said Bosserman.
About 112,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer annually, and about 41,000 new cases of rectal cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Late stage colon cancer has a low survival rate. Due to this fact, experts recommend individuals age 50 and older who also pose no risk factors obtain a colorectal screening. Those with risk factors such as a personal history of polyps or family history should get screenings beginning at age 40.
Colon experts know the key to a healthy colon lies in proper diet, yet proponents believe colon cleansing provides health benefits — removing toxins from their bodies, and boosting their energy and their immune systems.
Places such as colonic spas are growing in popularity, especially on the west coast; however, most doctors don’t recommend colon cleansing for better health or to prevent disease.
Michael Picco, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic states cleansings are unnecessary because your colon naturally eliminates waste material and bacteria, and it may be harmful.
“Your colon absorbs water and sodium to maintain your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. Some colon-cleansing programs disrupt this balance, causing dehydration and salt depletion. Long-term or excessive cleansing programs can lead to problems such as anemia, malnutrition and heart failure,” said Picco.