What is the Colon?
The colon is part of the body’s digestive system. The colon, or large intestine, forms part of the end portion of the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract which extends from the mouth to the anus. The colon is about 5 feet long and begins at the end of the small intestine or small bowel, and ends where it joins the rectum. The colon is a vital organ; important to the health and proper cleansing of the body as it expels waste material from the body.
Main Functions of the Colon
The main function of the colon is to absorb water and minerals from the ingested foodstuffs and to form and eliminate feces. The colon contains different types of bacteria to aid digestion, promote vital nutrient production, to maintain pH (acid-base) balance, and to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. These good bacteria play a vital role in that they synthesize folic acid and valuable nutrients from foods during metabolism.
The small intestine is the primary site of digestion and absorption. It absorbs all the nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats that you eat which are then transferred into the bloodstream. The undigested food is passed into the large intestine where water and nutrients from the food are reabsorbed and where the remaining waste is turned into stool. The waste passes from the colon and collects in the rectum at the end of the large intestine and leaves the body through the anus.
The process of digestion from ingestion to defecation normally takes 12 to 24 hours if the colon is fully functional and non-toxic. Because the colon rids the body of waste, it also cleanses the body. Poor health can be the result of poor detoxification. Irregular or infrequent bowel movements and constipation can result in toxic residues from the by-products of undigested foods accumulating.
If you have a healthy colon, you should be having between 1 to 3 bowel movements per day, often shortly after a meal. Colonic irrigation procedures can sometimes help to flush out the colon and help the body to detox, However, the procedure should be done by a professional health care provider.
Composition of the Colon
The colon consists of several segments:
- The cecum, the first portion of the colon, just after the small bowel
- The ascending colon
- The transverse colon which absorbs fluids and salts
- The descending colon which holds the resulting waste
- The sigmoid colon, an S-shaped portion near the end of the colon
- The colon ends at the rectum, where stool is stored until it is released
Diagnosing Colon Problems
Disorders related to the colon include:
In addition, smaller health problems can also be attributed to colon-related problems such as halitosis, acne and spider veins.
The evaluation of colonic processes, and diagnosis of disorders, is usually performed with an endoscopic procedure known as a colonoscopy. Sometimes, x-rays or radiologic scans using dye within the bowel can help to make an accurate diagnosis prior to surgery.
Help for Colon Problems
There are a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications available to treat disorders associated with the colon. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories such as Sulfasalazine, Asacol, Pentasa, Dipentum and corticosteroids reduce pain and inflammation. However, while these drugs may provide symptomatic relief, they may also suppress the immune system with negative side effects. In more severe cases, the treatment of colon disorders usually involves the partial or total removal of the colon. A surgical procedure such as a laparoscopy where the colon is removed may be necessary. After surgery, only clear liquids are ingested until normal bowel function resumes.
Research has indicated that a combination of natural remedies, regular exercise and dietary changes can make a significant difference to the lives of people suffering from digestion problems and complaints. Natural remedies such as herbal and homeopathic remedies are gentle, yet effective - without the harmful side effects of conventional drugs.
Therapeutic herbs such as Matricaria recutita (German Chamomile) acts as an anti-inflammatory, with anti-spasmodic and calming properties, while Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet) effectively reduces the pain of digestive disorders and ulcers. In addition, herbs such as Ulmus fulva (Slippery elm) also reduces digestive pain and ulcers, and Sutherlandia frutescens ('Cancer Bush') has been used as a powerful tonic to treat acute and chronic digestive complaints.