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Large intestine(colon)

The colon or the large intestine handles the final part of digestion. Shaped in the form of an inverted U, the colon is a large tube that throws out the waste material from the body. The colon begins its journey in the lower right side of the abdominal cavity and runs along the right side of the body till it reaches just below the liver. Here, it takes a turn to the left side by crossing the abdomen and finally ultimately descends down to its tend point at the rectum. The colon is much wider than the small intestine, but much shorter at just 6 feet long. This 6 feet long colon is divided into four parts namely the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon and sigmoid colon.

Ingested food leaves the small intestine and enters the ascending colon. As digestion progresses, the ingested food moves up the ascending colon and enters the transverse colon. During this stage, bacteria by the process of fermentation further breaks down the food matter. As a result, nutrients, water and other useful substances are removed and feces begin to form. Next, the feces move through the descending colon and rectum, ultimately leaving the body through the anus.

When the colon functions well, we stay healthy but when the colon malfunctions, it starts absorbing toxins which is harmful for our health. To help the colon function better, there are millions of microorganisms live inside the colon and help it to stay in perfect condition. An imbalance of gut bacteria can result in several diseases ranging from diverticulitis, gas, constipation and other chronic conditions. Hence, a proper balance of gut flora must always be maintained in order to avoid being plagued by digestive issues.

Facts of Organ

Your colon is around 5 feet long

Our colon which stretches from the small intestine to the anus is approximately 5 feet long. It is 3 inches wide at its widest point and just an inch wide at its narrowest point.

Food takes from anywhere between 12 to 48 hours to reach the colon

As opposed to what people believe, the last meal that we had doesn’t come out in the next bowel movement. Food generally takes anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to traverse the length of the digestive system. This period of time is called transit time and differs from person to person.

Around 100 trillion microscopic organisms live in your colon

Our colon plays host to a mind-boggling 100 trillion microorganisms also known as gut flora. The majority of these microorganisms are bacteria and they are very good for our digestive health. Infants are born with sterile digestive tracts, and bacteria from surrounding adults colonize their little intestines.

Your colon is never empty

The colon is never ever empty. Even after multiple rounds of diarrhea the colon is not emptied completely. Since stool is made up of bacteria apart from undigested food, water, dietary fiber etc, it is constantly being made in the stool even when we do not consume any food or made frequent trips to the loo.

Your colon absorbs about one quart of water each day

One of the jobs of the colon is to reabsorb water from the food that passes into it from the small intestine. The amount of water that the colon absorbs in the course of a day comes to around 1 quart.

Healthy stools need not be brown always

Healthy stools need not always be brown in color – they could be orange or yellow as well. However, tar, black or red colored stools could be a sign of bleeding.

You can survive without a colon

The nutrients that we require to survive are mainly absorbed by the small intestine. In certain diseases such as colon cancer or IBD, parts of the colon may be removed. Still, a person can continue to lead a healthy life.

Functions of Organ

Gets rid of waste materials from the body

The function of the large intestine is to get rid of the food after all the nutrients have been removed from it. This is achieved by a process called peristalsis and can last around 36 hours. The colon first absorbs the remaining electrolytes and water from indigestible food matter as it moves through the colon. Then this waste makes it way to the sigmoid colon where it is stored. Next the waste moves to the rectum from where it is ejected out of the body by the anus.

Maintains fluid balance

The colon has the added job of maintaining the body’s fluid balance. As the undigested food moves through the colon, it extracts the last shred of vitamins, minerals and water before releasing the waste from the body.

Formation of feces

Inside the colon, fiber, small amounts of water and other nutrients mix with the bacteria living in the colon to form feces. As the feces moves through the colon, the cell lining of the colon absorbs the water as well as some of the nutrients present in the feces. Bacteria within the colon feed on the fiber, breaking it down in order to produce nutrients that will nourish the cells that line the colon. This is why fiber is such a vital part of a diet geared toward the colon’s long-term health.

Anatomy

Ascending colon:

The ascending colon is located on the right side of the abdomen. The beginning of the ascending colon is known as the cecum. It is joined to the appendix and the small intestine. The ascending colon carries ingested food materials from the cecum to the transverse colon. Bacteria acts upon the food in the ascending colon to release vitamins. The intestinal wall absorbs nutrients and water from the food materials and releases them into our bloodstream.

Transverse colon:

The transverse colon that is situated between the ascending and descending colon is the longest part of the colon. It is named such because it transversely crosses the abdominal cavity on the left side to the left hand side. It is an important section of the colon as feces gets formed here.

Descending colon:

The descending colon is situated on the left side of the large intestine and extends towards the sigmoid colon. This is the last part of the digestive system. The descending colon reabsorbs water and other nutrients from the feces and prepares it for expulsion into the rectum.

Sigmoid colon:

The sigmoid colon is that part of the large intestine that connects the descending colon to the rectum. The sigmoid colon is “S” shaped and is about 18 inches long. It is the final part of the colon and transports feces from the descending colon to the anus/rectum.

Food Tips

Psyllium seed:

Psyllium seed is rich in fiber and thus helps with intestinal peristalsis. By ridding the colon of harmful toxins, it helps maintain a healthy gut. The mucilage present in Psyllium swells up when it comes in contact with water. The increase in volume stimulates the movement of waste through the colon thereby regularizing bowel movement. Psyllium is very effective in the treatment of constipation, IBS, diverticulosis, Crohn’s disease, and other diseases of the colon.

Fruits:

The fiber present in fruits helps immensely with digestion. Fiber helps to move things through the gut thereby preventing the buildup of toxins in the system. A fiber rich diet can protect against cancers of the large and also maintains blood sugar levels.

Yogurt:

Our colon is made up of millions of microorganisms that help in digestion and provide immunity to the body. An imbalance in the gut flora can cause several tummy troubles. Probiotics are the good live microorganisms which when taken in food form help to keep the intestines healthy. Yogurt is one of the best probiotic foods available. It contains the live cultures, bifidobacterium and lactobacillus which help with diseases such as IBS, IBD, infections and diarrhea.

 Artichokes:

Artichokes are a great source of dietary fiber and thus help maintain a healthy colon. Being rich in fiber, they help to retain water which helps in the easy passage of stool.

 Chia Seeds

Fiber is necessary for proper bowel movements and chia seeds are incredibly rich in fiber. The fiber content of chia seeds keeps the gut healthy and cleanses the bowel which makes it one of the best foods for a healthy gut. Chia seeds also possess anti-inflammatory properties which is good for the gut.

Fennel:

Fennel being carminative in nature reduces flatulence and gas, speeds up the digestion process and warms up the digestive tract.

Cardamom:

Cardamom is a great herb for the colon. Its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties are excellent for soothing heartburn problems.

Cumin:

Cumin, a carminative herb has the ability to improve digestion and treat piles symptoms.

 Lemon Balm:

Lemon balm with mild sedative properties helps to reduce bloating and gas. Use of lemon balm is recommended if your digestion suffers because of stress.

Water:

Though not a food, water is one of the most important things our body needs to digest food properly. Not drinking sufficient water can make the digestion process sluggish and thus cause constipation by hardening the stools. Staying hydrated is one of key elements to good digestion.

Lifestyle Tips

Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best gifts one can give one’s digestive system. Smoking is linked to many diseases of the GI tract such as indigestion, heartburn, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer.

Eat more fruits and veggies

What we eat makes a big difference in how our digestive tract works. Consuming a lot of junk food contributes improper digestion and irritable bowels. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber and many minerals and vitamins that are necessary for proper digestive health. Consuming fruits and vegetables on a regular basis may also reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases. 

Take plenty of fiber rich food:

Consuming plenty of fiber rich food is necessary for a healthy GI tract. Fiber regulates blood sugar levels and helps the GI tract stay regular. It also prevents constipation, reduces cholesterol levels in the blood and gives a feeling of fullness. Fiber is obtained from plant sources, so consuming a diet comprising of legumes, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables is a must. It is important to consume both soluble and insoluble forms of fiber. Soluble fiber slows down the digestion process and helps the body absorb more nutrients; insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps move food through the digestive system.

Limit intake of fats and sugars

A low-fiber high calorie diet comprising of fats and sugars have the potential to increase the risk of certain cancers, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, nutrition experts suggest having a diet high in vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates. If fat has to be consumed, then it should be more of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for a healthy digestive system. While many factors determine how much amount of water is right for a person, it is recommended to consume at least 8 glasses of water per day. Try to include a beverage with every meal or snack. Drinking sufficient fluids throughout the day is a good way to take care of our colon. 

Manage Stress

Stress can influence our digestive system in a big way. Stress can speed up or slow down the smooth passage of food through the digestive tract causing diarrhea, constipation or abdominal pain. Stress is also known to worsen already existing symptoms such as ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Finding ways to deal with stress can be beneficial for the digestive tract.

Diseases and Conditions

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