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How Food Affects The Colon

Digestion

Digestion 101

When you eat something, your body has to digest it to make use of it. Digestion is the process by which the body converts food into small enough molecules that nutrients can be absorbed. All of this happens via the digestive system which, for lack of a more glorious way to put it, is like a long tube with one opening at your mouth and the other at your anus and lots of organs in between.

The body cannot use food in the form it ordinarily comes in because the pieces are too large and some foods, such as fats, are not water soluble and therefore cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream or pass into the tissue cells. The role of the digestive system is to reduce large and complex foods into the water-soluble substances the cells can use. The process is both physical (as when teeth chew food into tiny bits) and chemical (as when enzymes help change foods into smaller compounds). The timing of the digestive system is very important: Food must move slowly enough so that all the necessary changes can occur and absorption can take place, but fast enough to prevent harmful decomposition and fecal build up.

There are two parts to the digestive system. The alimentary canal is a tube about 9 meters long running from the mouth to the anus and includes the throat, esophagus, stomach and the small and large intestines (also known as the colon). The other part is a group of accessory organs that reduce food mechanically and chemically to a simpler form that the body can process. These accessory organs include: the teeth, tongue, salivary glands, pancreas, liver and gallbladder.

In short, here’s how it works: First, your mouth, teeth, and saliva aid in the process of digestion by grinding food into smaller bits and releasing some enzymes. Your stomach mixes foods with stomach acids and gastric juices. This, in combination with the churning of the stomach, further breaks down food. Your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas then secrete bile which is necessary for breaking down fats. The bile is stored in the gallbladder which releases it into the small intestine as necessary. The pancreas produces a fluid with three enzymes that breaks down carbs, proteins and fats. It also creates insulin, which is necessary for moving sugar from the blood to body tissues.

Then your intestines come into play. The small intestine is where the majority of nutrient absorption occurs. As the food passes through, it is further broken down and nutrients pass through the membrane walls of the intestine and into the blood. Your colon (the large intestine) is responsible for some minor aspects of digestion, vital nutrient production, and helping with the synthesis of folic acid and valuable nutrients from foods, including vitamin K and portions of the B vitamins. [1] Some nutrients are also re-absorbed in the large intestine along with any extra fluids remaining in the digested food. The colon forms the feces and stores it in the rectum.

Intestine Diagram

How Food Affects the Colon

The thing is, all foods do not affect the body equally. If this were the case, it wouldn't matter what you ate, when you ate it, or how much of it you ate, etc. In reality, the different foods and drinks we consume have a significant impact on our well-being, and on every organ in the body. This definitely includes the colon.

Unfortunately, many people have a less-than-healthy colon, as evidenced in the high rates of colon cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis in the U.S. [2] , [3] , [4] and it is not uncommon for people to experience either occasional constipation or outright impaction. [5] , [6] Of course, the average person's diet is one that is relatively poor. And this is where a large part of the battle is won or lost.

The most common sign of an unhealthy colon is chronic constipation. [7] The accumulation of old, hardened feces can stick to the walls of the colon. [8] The passage through which the feces are then forced to travel is then greatly reduced in diameter so the stools become much narrower - even as thin as pencils sometimes. Unfortunately, many people think that it's very common or "natural" to move your bowels only once or twice a week and for them to be thin or like small, black, hard pellets. Just so you know, this is completely false. Your body is meant to eliminate waste on a daily basis, and it shouldn't be that difficult. [9]

In fact, a person with a healthy colon should actually have 2 to 3 bowel movements a day. [10] , [11] Elimination should be fast, complete, and easy. [12] But this doesn't always happen, does it? Diet is very commonly the answer why.

Natural health experts agree that diet is one of the most important factors related to colon health. [13] , [14] , [15] For the healthiest colon, you should eat a diet that includes several servings a day of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. [16] One thing that all of these foods have in common is that they are all prime sources of dietary fiber.

Because your body can't digest it, fiber goes through relatively unchanged. However, it also tends to bulk up and become gelatinous when it comes in contact with water, which means that it does two things: it makes you feel full, and it escorts waste from your body. As you introduce more fiber into your diet, it goes through your colon, sweeping it clean. You'll probably notice more and bigger stools, which is a good thing. It means the fiber is doing its job.

But it's not just getting more dietary fiber that can help optimize colon health. There are a few things worth avoiding, as well. Eating red meat and processed meats significantly raise colon cancer risk and sugar consumption is related to inflammation in the colon. [17] Your best bet, then, is to avoid these things as much as you can while loading up on the foods that we know are good for colon health.

Fiber

Fiber...For "Regular" People

Another reality: Because the typical diet is high in meat, dairy, sugar, and processed foods, most people don't get the recommended daily intake of colon-supporting dietary fiber. [18] At the same time, even when you know that eating healthier is better for you and will help you feel better, it can be hard to adopt an optimal, colon-healthy diet. This is one reason why health experts recommend a fiber supplement such as DrNatura's Colonix Intestinal Cleanser: it can be a great way to up your daily fiber intake and to reap the benefits of a cleaner, healthier colon. [19]

So, if you're a "regular" person in the sense that you could do a better job of getting more dietary fiber, using a daily dietary fiber supplement can be a great first step toward being "regular" the other way, too.

References:

  1. Azzouz, L. & Sharma, S. (2020). Physiology, Large Intestine. StatPearls. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507857/
  2. Eating for a healthy colon. (2014). Rush University.
    https://www.rush.edu/news/eating-healthy-colon
  3. Statistics. (2016). International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.
    https://www.aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs/statistics.html
  4. Inflammatory Bowel Disease Prevalence (IBD) in the United States. (2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ibd/data-statistics.htm
  5. Definition and facts for constipation. (2018). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts
  6. Atoyebi, D. (n.d.). Signs of poor gut health. Piedmont Healthcare.
    https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/signs-of-poor-gut-health
  7. Balch, P. A. (2010). Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 5th ed. New York, NY: Penguin Group. Pg. 799.
  8. Greger, M. (n.d.). Bowel movements. NutritionFacts.org.
    https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/bowel-movements/
  9. Greger, M. (n.d.). Bowel movements. NutritionFacts.org.
    https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/bowel-movements/
  10. Biggers, A. (2020). What are the different types of poop? Medical News Today.
    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320938
  11. Ibid.
  12. Satia, J. A., Tseng, M., Galanko, J. A., Martin, C., & Sandler, R. S. (2009). Dietary patterns and colon cancer risk in Whites and African Americans in the North Carolina Colon Cancer Study. Nutrition and cancer, 61(2), 179–193.
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01635580802419806
  13. Greger, M. (n.d.) Bowel movements. NutritionFacts.org
    https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/bowel-movements/
  14. Greger, M. (n.d.) Colon health. NutritionFacts.org.
    https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/colon-health/
  15. Eating for a healthy colon. (2014). Rush University.
    https://www.rush.edu/news/eating-healthy-colon
  16. Eating for a healthy colon. (2014). Rush University.
    https://www.rush.edu/news/eating-healthy-colon
  17. Fiber. (n.d.). Harvard T. C. Chan School of Public Health.
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/