The colon, also called the large bowel or sometimes just the bowel, is another name for the large intestine. It is part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which also includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and anus. The GI tract, together with the liver, pancreas and gallbladder, makes up the digestive system.
At about five feet in length, the colon is the largest part of the GI tract and plays an important role in converting digested food into waste—but this is not its only job. Water and nutrients (leftover from digested food) are absorbed by the colon, and so are key vitamins produced by the beneficial gut bacteria. Those friendly bacteria, called probiotics, can be found throughout the entire body, but the majority are located in the GI tract and make up at least 70 percent of the body’s immune system.
The end portion of the colon, called the rectum, is where stool is stored before it is eliminated. While elimination habits differ from one person to the next, most natural health practitioners agree you should have at least one (and up to three) healthy bowel movements each day.
What is occasional constipation?
Occasional constipation is often defined as having infrequent bowel movements with stools that are typically hard, dry and difficult to eliminate. In addition, you may experience occasional cramping and bloating. While many factors can lead to a sluggish bowel, here are some of the most common:
- Diet: Too many refined sugars, starches and processed foods can lead to occasional constipation. Eating plenty of fiber-rich, non-starchy foods that are low in sugar can help maintain healthy bowel movements.
- Too little exercise:Exercise triggers the flow of lymph in the body, which stimulates peristalsis (the natural muscle contractions that move food through the intestines) and supports healthy elimination.
- Changes in routine:Changes in normal daily activity can often throw off your internal schedule, which can affect your bowel movements and lead to occasional constipation.
- Lack of time:Although taking the time to eliminate regularly is an important part of good bowel health, many people simply don’t do it. Try setting aside time in your day to go to the bathroom, even it means setting the alarm a bit earlier.
- Not sitting properly:Many people don’t realize that how we sit on the toilet can impact how successful our bowel movements are. A natural squatting position supports the elimination process, so try to elevate your feet with a short stool when you are on the toilet.
If you do experience occasional constipation, consider an herbal and mineral formula to help with relief. Cleanse More™ from Renew Life contains natural magnesium to help relieve occasional constipation without cramping or discomfort and promote regular, healthy bowel movements.*
How does colon health impact the rest of the body?
There are more than 100 trillion bacterial cells living on or around your body, but the majority can be found in your gut—another name for your GI tract. And because we know that the colon is the largest organ in your GI tract, it’s not hard to understand why the health of your colon has a significant impact on the health of your whole body.
By taking care of your colon, you are taking care of a powerhouse of good bacteria. Remember that the beneficial bacteria that exist in the colon (probiotics) are our first line of defense against harmful microbes that may cause significant damage if allowed to multiply and flourish. However, our probiotic bacteria keep those bad guys in check so we can maintain balance and optimal health.
Here are four important ways you can support the good bacteria in your colon and promote a healthy body:
- Try fermented foods:Fermented foods such as yogurt, plain kefir (a fermented milk beverage), miso and tempeh help nourish the friendly probiotics in the colon to support healthy digestive function. In addition, they provide added support for the delicate intestinal barrier.
- Eat plenty of fiber:A healthy colon needs bulk to eliminate regularly, and dietary fiber helps provide that bulk. Aim for at least 35 grams a day from fruit, non-starchy veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, or consider a daily fiber supplement if you are not getting enough fiber from your diet alone.
- Drink plenty of water:Making sure your colon stays hydrated supports peristalsis and helps ease elimination. Try to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of purified (filtered) water each day.
- Get plenty of exercise:Regular exercise promotes healthy circulation and blood flow, which in turn supports the healthy function of your colon and your entire digestive system. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week.
- Limit sugar and artificial sweeteners:Eating too much sugar (including the hidden sugars from starchy carbohydrates) as well as artificial sweeteners may alter the bacterial balance in the gut and slow down healthy bowel function.
Is a natural colon cleanse right for you?
Current eating patterns in the United States reveal that most Americans consume too much sugar, starchy carbohydrates and unhealthy fats and too little fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and protein-rich foods. This nutrition deficit has far-reaching health implications—and not just for the colon but for the whole body. Poor diet has been linked to a rise in obesity and obesity-related diseases.
A natural colon cleanse, which typically involves the use of an herbal colon cleanse supplement as well as positive changes in diet, is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Certain herbs and minerals have proven highly effective for helping to remove unwanted waste and toxins, hydrate the colon and promote regularity. This, combined with adding colon-supportive foods to the diet (and eliminating those foods which may be detrimental to colon health) helps to restore a balanced intestinal environment.
Even for those who follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, periodic colon cleansing offers a “refresh” for the GI tract and promotes a healthy gut balance, which in turn supports overall well-being.
Can colon cleansing help with weight loss?
Many people find that doing a natural colon cleanse helps them lose a few pounds or feel slimmer. While this is not the case with everyone, it is likely a temporary benefit of eliminating the waste and toxins that have built up inside the colon. A healthy, balanced gut is also less likely to make you feel bloated or weighed down.
The reality is that colon cleansing, along with using other targeted or total-body cleansing formulas throughout the year, is just one part of a living a healthy lifestyle. Other choices, such as following a nutritious diet and getting plenty of exercise, are just as important. The good news is that all of these things together often have the long-term benefit of supporting a healthy body weight.
What does a healthy gut eat?
It turns out that a Mediterranean-style diet isn’t just good for your heart; it’s also good for your GI tract, according to findings from a study published in the journal Gut. Researchers from the University of Naples in Italy looked at the eating habits of more than 150 adults over a single week, taking regular stool and urine samples to analyze the participants’ gut bacteria in response to the foods they ate.
In examining their results, they found that individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet—one rich in healthy fats, protein and especially fiber from fruit, leafy greens, nuts and legumes—had higher levels of beneficial short-chain fatty acids in their guts. SCFAs are formed when fiber from plant foods breaks down in the colon, and they provide countless health benefits for the body.
It was noted that different dietary patterns were linked to different microbial compositions, and the more healthy foods a person consumed, the more his or her gut bacteria worked to produce SCFAs—which in turn helped regulate microbial metabolism and support overall health. In addition to their role in healthy metabolic function, past research shows SCFAs support bowel health and promote a healthy inflammatory response in the body. They have also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and related conditions.
Colon health concerns: when to talk to your doctor
While you may experience occasional constipation or occasional diarrhea from time to time as the result of a change in routine or diet, most experts recommend talking to your health care practitioner if symptoms persist for more than two to four weeks.
Although colorectal cancer (cancer that originates in the colon or rectum) is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, the symptoms are sometimes overlooked ignored, which can lead to a missed diagnosis and delays in treatment. Mayo Clinic experts recommend talking to your doctor if the following signs or symptoms are persistent:
- A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool, that lasts longer than four weeks
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Aim to make colon health a priority
There is a lot riding on your colon. Not only is a healthy colon essential for good digestion and elimination, but it’s where the majority of your good bacteria reside—and those bacteria are your body’s natural defense system against illness and disease. Regular colon cleansing, along with following a healthy diet, staying active and paying attention to changes in bowel movements, are great ways to support the health of your colon and your whole body.