Last Updated: June 6, 2015
The colon, a section of the large intestine, is the last stage of digestion. By the time food particles reach this region most nutrient absorption has already happened. It's primary job is to remove any residual nutrients, salts and water content and compact remaining waste into solid fecal matter to be eliminated via the stools.
Acting as the waste management system, all organs, cells and
tissues rely on a healthy colon so they can perform efficiently. It is essential for the liver, the master detoxifier of the body, in purifying the blood and cleansing toxic substances.
The results of elimination mirror the whole process of digestion and can be used as a gauge to understand how well digestion has occurred. In Ayurvedic and Chinese systems, the condition of the stool is often largely taken into account when reviewing an individual's digestive capacities and state of overall health.
When the gastrointestinal tract is performing efficiently, we are able to release the waste material leftover from our meals and experience regular healthy bowel movements or stool that is properly formed.
Both short and long term dietary practices can, of course, affect this process considerably. When digestion is off from poor food choices or bad food combinations, the colon is affected and its function inhibited. If these dietary habits are continued, accumulation of impacted fecal matter can occur which some health experts believe causes various levels of "intestinal autointoxication." This is a disorder that generates toxic substances that can poison the body and block detoxification pathways.
While this is a controversial subject not entirely embraced by the allopathic medical community, many holistic practitioners like Dr. Bernard Jensen believe autointoxication "produces undesirable consequences in the body and is the root cause of many of today’s diseases and illnesses." (Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management by Dr. Bernard Jensen)
There is a broad range of health issues intestinal fecal build-up can contribute to. Frequently symptoms like chronic bloating, gas, fatigue, constipation, food cravings, abdominal pain, hormonal imbalance, allergies and even inflammatory disorders like arthritis, IBS and diverticulitis can be a sign that the colon is obstructed.
The best solution to the symptoms of a toxic intestinal tract and bloated gut is to tend to the root cause of the problem. This is where diet and colon cleansing regimens can be of particular benefit. But first, we will discuss more about the colon itself and its main sections and functions.
The term "colon" is sometimes used interchangeably with the term "large intestine", however technically speaking, the large intestine is a muscular tube-like organ about 5 feet long that is split into three different sections, called the cecum, the colon and the rectum. The colon is the largest section of the large intestine, located in the middle of the cecum and rectum.
The cecum collects unabsorbed residue, containing undigested food, fiber, water, nutrients and salts, from the small intestine via the ileocecal sphincter.
The colon receives this watery mass of partially digested food 2-5 hours after eating and slowly moves it up, across and down the colon via peristaltic movements, a process which usually take between 12-24 hours.
The colon is divided into four sections:
After the undigested food residue enters the colon, it combines with mucus and bacteria that start to form feces. The colon absorbs water and any remaining nutrients as this fecal material moves through the different sections. This is also where beneficial gut bacteria produce vitamins like vitamin B12, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin and biotin.
From the colon, the undigestible waste material is sent toward the rectum, the last section of the large intestine. Defecation reflexes are then triggered to let you know when to eliminate stool.
The amount of microbial gut flora, also called gut microbiota, varies throughout the digestive tract. While small amounts are present in the small intestine and stomach, the colon by comparison holds the largest population of microbacteria. They are especially abundant in the descending colon and are known to make up about 60% of the dry mass of our stool formation.
A healthy colon has a dense and diversely populated community of yeast and bacteria that when present in proper ratios enable a synergistic (mutualistic) relationship between you and your microbes.
In a study documented in the Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology is was quantified that "our gut contains in the range of 1000 bacterial species and 100-fold more genes than are found in the human genome."
Often referred to as the "forgotten organ", some health experts in fact liken the metabolic activities performed by these intestinal microorganisms to those of any vital organ system.
The gut is also an essential part of the immune system and the large intestine is surrounded by a mass of tissue, called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), that generates immune cells. These gut flora work together with the lymphatic system and play a major role in human immune function.
Different species of bacteria natural present in colon, like Bacteroides and Clostridia, largely influence anti-inflammatory responses and help to regulate the production of cytokines and antibodies the immune system produces.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the analysis of stool formation is often used as a diagnostic tool to understanding the health of one's digestive functions. When stool is well formed is has a smooth, soft ripe banana-type consistency and tends to float when submerged in water.
Signs of strong digestive capacity are also reflected by regular cycles of elimination or bowel movements, which should occur at least once a day without strain.
From an emotional standpoint, the large intestine being an organ of elimination is related to transformation, change, letting go and moving on. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is intimately connected with the lung meridian system. The two corresponding organs are associated with the metal element and the emotion of grief.
If we are emotionally holding on as well as feeling stubborn or resentful, we can also become constipated. Similarly, fear and grief can also cause diarrhea or loose stools. When we follow lifestyle and dietary protocols that encourage healthy bowels, we can also simultaneously help to release these destructive emotions and blockages that can impede our personal growth on many levels.
In the words of Donna Gates,
author of the Body Ecology Diet, "All health begins in the digestive
tract and creating a healthy colon is a great first step to wellness." (Source)
In addition to following the mentioned dietary practices, regular exercise through aerobic activities can help to increase blood flow and circulation, effects that positively impact the colon and the stimulation of bowel movements.
It can also be extremely beneficial to partake in a number of therapies known to significantly help reduce potential toxic non-eliminated waste trapped in the large intestine. This material can become encrusted as mucoid plaque into pockets of the colon wall, causing aforementioned autointoxication and fatigued conditions.
These protocols may include juice fasting, the use of enemas or receiving a colon hydrotherapy treatment from a qualified specialist.