The colon, or the large intestine, is an integral part of the digestive system. A variety of conditions can have a negative impact on colon function, causing digestive upset and other symptoms, ranging from functional disorders (in which the colon looks normal but doesn’t function properly) like irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, to conditions like Chron’s disease, colitis, diverticulitis, cancer, and more.
Colorectal cancer, the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, is one of the most serious conditions that affect the colon. There are a number of risk factors that make people more likely to develop colorectal cancer, including:
- Older age
- Personal history of colon polyps or cancer
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions (like irritable bowel syndrome and Chron’s disease)
- Family history
- A low-fiber, high-fat diet
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Alcohol consumption
Like most diseases, risk factors for developing colorectal cancer and other colon-related health conditions include both modifiable and non-modifiable factors. You can’t do anything about your family health history, for instance, but you can certainly make lifestyle changes that eliminate other risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, and more. And while colorectal cancer is certainly one of the most serious health conditions, many other colon-related conditions can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life. That’s why it’s crucial to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that reduce your risk of colorectal cancer and other conditions that affect the colon.
To help you start making positive lifestyle changes, we’ve rounded up 25 of the best ways to improve colon health and reduce your risk of developing colon-related health conditions today.
Check out our top 25 tips for improving colon health (click on a link for more detail):
- Limit your consumption of red meats and processed meats.
- Choose healthy fats.
- Increase your fiber intake.
- Get more exercise.
- Pay attention to your stool.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Focus on consuming fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting processed foods across all food groups.
- Aim for a primarily plant-based diet.
- Get screened for colon cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get enough calcium.
- Talk to your doctor if you experience frequent constipation.
- Identify underlying contributors to digestive issues.
- Take an occasional aspirin.
- Prepare your foods in a safe manner.
- Consume fermented foods and probiotics.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Get your daily dose of Vitamin D.
- Try a safe, natural colon cleanse.
- Drink an apple cider vinegar cleanse to promote probiotic growth.
- If you have an inflammatory bowel disease, consult a nutritionist for targeted dietary guidance.
- Find a good source of soluble fiber.
- Create meal plans to avoid eating processed foods, particularly during busy times.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption.
- Fit more physical activity into your daily routine.
1. Limit your consumption of red meats and processed meats. “According to the ACS, the risk of colon cancer increases by 15 to 20 percent if you consume 100 grams of red meat (the equivalent of a small hamburger) or 50 grams (equivalent of one hot dog) of processed meats, like sausage, bacon or hotdogs, per day.
“‘You can still have a little bit of red meat — about two four-ounce servings of red meat per week,’ says Rasmussen. ‘However, it is best to limit processed meats to a special treat now and then because they have other components, such as preservatives, that may cause cancer.'” – Heather Rasmussen, PhD, a registered dietitian at Rush, Eating for a Healthy Colon, Rush University Medical Center; Twitter: @RushMedical
2. Choose healthy fats. “Not all fat is off-limits — just choose unsaturated fats and avoid saturated and trans fats as part of your colon cancer diet. The American Heart Association states that polyunsaturated fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels and improve cell health. Include good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon, milled flaxseed, walnuts, and plant-based oils, such as olive and canola, in your daily diet. Research published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology noted that while unhealthy saturated fats, typically found in animal foods like red meat and butter, have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer, eating omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish can decrease colon cancer risk by 12 percent.” – Diana Rodriguez, Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD, 8 Diet Tips to Help Prevent Colon Cancer, Everyday Health; Twitter: @EverydayHealth
3. Increase your fiber intake. “Plant-based diets containing generous amounts of vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, nuts and whole grains are high in fibre, which is the essential, non-digestible component of food. A high-fibre diet supports a healthy digestive tract by sweeping debris from the colon, much like a broom. Fibre exercises the intestinal tract by stimulating peristalsis, the wave-like muscular contractions of the bowel that decrease bowel transit time. Fibre also holds moisture in the colon, softening the stool.
“We need both soluble and insoluble fibre for colon cleansing every day. Soluble fibre dissolves in water whereas insoluble does not. Insoluble fibre is especially good for improving elimination and preventing constipation. Soluble fibre increases beneficial bacteria, which produce natural antibiotics that eliminate potentially harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. Researchers believe adequate and consistent levels of healthy intestinal flora can also help prevent colon cancer. Soluble fibre is also important for binding cholesterol and aiding its passage through the body.” – Ken Babal, CN, The Best Colon-Cleansing Diet, Alive; Twitter: @aliveHealth
4. Get more exercise. “When you’re trying to keep your colon healthy, exercise is a huge part of the equation. By increasing blood flow and circulation through exercise, your colon (and entire gastrointestinal system) gets more oxygen. This may help ward off colon cancer and other diseases. Your fitness routine doesn’t need to be extreme. Stretching, doing yoga or walking for 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient to help keep your colon healthy.” – Aislinn Vaughan & Philip Knox, 7 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Colon, Gaiam; Twitter: @Gaiam
5. Pay attention to your stool. “Bowel movements should occur at least once per day and ideally after each complete meal. If you are not eliminating frequently enough, toxins will be accumulating in your colon and also throughout your entire body…right down to each individual cell. Your entire body will look and feel toxic!” – Nancy Sphar, as quoted by Donna Gates, Powerful Tips to Improve Your Digestive System’s Health: From a Conversation with Nancy Spahr, CBE & Colon Therapist, Body Ecology; Twitter: @DonnamGates
6. Drink plenty of water. “Fill up your glass water bottle and get sipping! Frequently, increasing eliminations can happen simply by drinking more water throughout the day. 8-10 glasses of distilled or filtered water can aid in wonderful hydration, better brain function and immediate bowel improvement.” – Eileen Fedyna, Everybody Poops! 7 Ways To Have Great Bowel Movements, Mind Body Green; Twitter: @MindBodyGreen
7. Focus on consuming fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting processed foods across all food groups. “One of the best things a person can do to improve colon health is eat well. Eating healthy means having a balanced diet. One way to do this to focus on lots of fruits and veggies, freshly prepared meals and limiting processed foods.” – Casey Beeghly, Clinical Dietitian, Sentara Leigh Hospital, Top eating tips for optimal colon health, Sentara; Twitter: @SentaraHealth
8. Aim for a primarily plant-based diet. “Beyond just fruits and veggies, a plant-based diet, which includes whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, may offer additional protection. A new study, shows that vegetarians had about 22% less risk of developing colorectal cancer, while plant-based eaters who included fish & seafood once a month and had the biggest risk reduction at 43%. These Pesco-vegetarians also limited meat consumption to once per month, another important colorectal cancer preventive strategy. Red meat intake has long been associated with increased risk for developing this type of cancer.Whether it’s the fiber, folate or phytonutrients in plants that help to lower colorectal cancer risk, the take home message is that delicious, meatless meals may help.” – Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist, 6 Eating & Juicing Tips For A Healthy Colon, Reboot with Joe; Twitter: @RebootWithJoe
9. Get screened for colon cancer. “Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. Colon screenings can often find growths called polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer. These tests also can find colon cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 50 for most people; talk to your doctor about when you should start and which tests might be right for you.” – Stacy Simon, Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colon Cancer, American Cancer Society; Twitter: @AmericanCancer
10. Maintain a healthy weight. “Except for smoking, nothing else raises the overall risk of cancer more than being overweight. At least 11 different cancers have been linked to weight gain and obesity, including colon cancer. An ideal goal is to weigh around what you did when you were 18 years old. Realistically, if you’ve put on weight, the first goal is to stop gaining weight, which has health benefits by itself. Then, for a bigger health boost, slowly work to lose some pounds.” – 8 Ways to Prevent Colon Cancer, Siteman Cancer Center; Twitter: @SitemanCenter
11. Get enough calcium. “Calcium is proven to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium can be found in a wide variety of foods including dark green vegetables, low-fat dairy products, canned salmon and sardines, soy and tofu products, and fortified products such as orange juice. Almonds, cottage cheese, and yogurt make healthy high calcium snacks. Calcium supplements may also be needed to reach your daily intake level.” – Healthy Colon Diet: Foods That Keep Your Colon Clean, Colon-Cleanse-Information.com
12. Talk to your doctor if you experience frequent constipation. “Unfortunately too common of a problem among the population today is constipation. People are consuming less nutritious foods, are over stimulated and stressed, are not maintaining healthy exercise habits and are damaging their entire bodies with highly processed, chemical ridden food from man rather than nature.
“Understanding if you have chronic constipation and addressing the concern with your doctor can save you from suffering from a condition or allowing a disease to progress. Individuals over 50 years of age are at increased risk of Crohn’s disease, bowel polyps and ulcerative colitis and are recommended for medical screening.” – Dr. David Jockers, 16 Ways to Achieve Healthy Poop!, DrJockers.com; Twitter: @drjockers5
13. Identify underlying contributors to digestive issues. “Dr. Wolf recommends taking an in-depth look at what you’re eating to see if you’re consuming potential offenders. ‘Too many carbohydrates may make you constipated. Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are big offenders for diarrhea and bloating,’ she explains. Dietary supplements such as calcium and iron can also make you constipated.
“Sometimes the culprit may be a physical intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant don’t have the enzyme to break down milk sugar (lactose). Some people are unable to digest casein, a protein in milk. People with celiac disease (a toxic body response to the protein gluten, found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye) or a gluten sensitivity often struggle with bloating and diarrhea.
“Medications may also cause digestion problems. They may be common over-the-counter medicines, such as the pain reliever ibuprofen (Advil) or the heartburn reliever omeprazole (Prilosec), or they may be prescription medicines such as antibiotics or even chemotherapy drugs.” – Editors at Harvard Health Letter, quoting Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Rethinking fiber and hydration can lead to better colon health, Harvard Health Publications; Twitter: @HarvardHealth
14. Take an occasional aspirin. “Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, are thought to cut colorectal cancer risk. But routine use can cause serious problems, such as gastrointestinal bleeding.
“People with high heart-attack risk can take a baby aspirin every day, but at the higher doses of aspirin that could help prevent colorectal cancer, the risks appear to outweigh the benefits.
“Still, Dr. Neugut says, if you’re taking aspirin to prevent coronary artery disease, you could get a bonus in colon-cancer prevention. Only a very high colon-cancer risk might warrant NSAIDs for cancer prevention, he says.” – Anne Harding (sharing insights from Alfred Neugut, MD, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City), The 12 Best Ways to Prevent Colorectal Cancer, Health.com; Twitter: @goodhealth
15. Prepare your foods in a safe manner. “Eating healthy isn’t enough, it is important that you prepare all of your food in a safe way. Burning or overly charring your meats while barbecuing creates carcinogens which are harmful to your colon health.” – 6 Essential Dietary Tips for a Healthy Colon, Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California; Twitter: @Gi_Doctor
16. Consume fermented foods and probiotics. “The human digestive system is composed of a vast network of beneficial bacteria that are responsible for digesting food, absorbing nutrients, battling harmful bacteria, and eliminating toxins. When these bacteria get thrown out of balance, digestive health can suffer and the longer this bacterial balance is out of whack, the more severe the damage that can be.
“To help offset the damage to your gut flora caused by environmental and food chemicals, antibiotic drugs, processed foods, and other factors, it is important to supplement with probiotic bacteria and eat plenty of fermented, probiotic-rich foods. These include cultured vegetables like kimchi, tempeh, Greek yogurt, sauerkraut and fermented beverages like kombucha tea and kefir.” – Detox the Body and Cleanse the Colon with These 13 Foods, The Science of Eating; Twitter: @Xceller8ed
17. Avoid caffeine. “Drink at least ½ your body weight in ounces in pure water each day. If urine is still dark in color increase this amount further. Caffeine & other substances found in soft drinks, tea, & coffee are dehydrating so these should be avoided. If you choose to drink these add an additional equal amount of pure water for what is consumed.” – Ginny Rawls, Lifestyle Tips to Aid Colon Health, Abundant Living Lifestyle Center: @rawchefrawls
18. Get your daily dose of Vitamin D. “According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D can help maintain a healthy colon and even lower your risk of colon cancer. You can get a sufficient dose of daily vitamin D by spending 15-20 minutes in the sun. If that isn’t a viable option, you can also get vitamin D from:
- Fatty fish
- Vitamin D supplements
“This type of vitamin can also help prevent osteoporosis by keeping the bones healthier.” – 8 Steps to a Healthier Colon – Detox Your Colon, Accord Clinical Research
19. Try a safe, natural colon cleanse. “If you are looking for colon cleansing, then it is important for you to stay away from processed foods and cooked foods for two days. It is ideal for you to only depend on fresh vegetable juice for a day or two to improve bowel movement and also to cleanse the colon.
- Switch over to a fresh vegetable juice diet for a couple of days if you are looking to cleanse your colon.
- Drink fresh vegetable juice several times a day as it contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and sugar that will help in improving bowel movement and to keep your body healthy.
- Make sure that you only consume freshly prepared vegetable juices.” – sharib, Top 10 Home Remedies For Colon Cleansing, MyHealthTips.in; Twitter: @MyHealthTips_in
20. Drink an apple cider vinegar cleanse to promote probiotic growth. “Apple cider vinegar is full of enzymes that promote probiotic growth. A study from the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany published in a 2008 article in Nutrition concluded that apple pectin and other apple extracts can stimulate the formation of butyrate, which is a nutrient linked to colon health. And Dr. Frank Lipman touted apple cider vinegar as having an impressive ability to improve digestion and ease gastrointestinal issues. Try mixing eight ounces of warm water with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and two tablespoons of organic honey. After shaking and stirring, drink the concoction every morning until you notice regular bowel movements.” – Alexa Erickson, 8 Ways to Naturally Give Yourself a Colon Cleanse, Collective Evolution; Twitter: @CollectiveEvol
21. If you have an inflammatory bowel disease, consult a nutritionist for targeted dietary guidance. “Nutritional needs are specific to the individual and differ with disease state, body size and age. A nutritionist can help you estimate your individual needs. Calorie and protein needs are similar for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In both diseases, needs increase during inflammation and immediately after to restore losses.” – Nutrition Tips for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, USF Medical Center; Twitter: @UCSFHospitals
22. Find a good source of soluble fiber. “A good source of soluble fiber to compensate for all of the fibreless processed foods, meat, and dairy that we eat is recommended. The three best sources of fiber are psyllium seed husks, freshly ground organic flaxseed meal (It should be freshly ground, or at the very least stabilized, so that it does not go rancid), and white chia seeds. One tablespoon of psyllium each day or 1.5 tablespoons of ground flax in the morning and evening with juice or 1-2 tablespoons of white chia seeds sprinkled on your food will keep you regular. Flax and chia also provide you with healthy omega-3 essential oils. And with flax, the sulfur-rich proteins and lignans present in the seeds work hand in hand with the omega-3 oils to reverse mutated cells and cancer in the body. But again, psyllium has the advantage of not fermenting in the colon.” – Jon Barron, Colon Cleanse: Death Begins In The Colon, Baseline of Health Foundation; Twitter: @BaselineHealth
23. Create meal plans to avoid eating processed foods, particularly during busy times. “Create a meal plan that helps you avoid grabbing a burger on the run or ordering a pizza. Decide what you will eat each day of the week then purchase the ingredients you will need to prepare fresh and nutritious meals.” – How to Keep Up With Colon Health During the Holidays, Virtual Imaging, Inc.; Twitter: @VImagingAtlanta
24. Reduce your alcohol consumption. “When it comes to cancer prevention, less (alcohol) is more. Alcohol use is a known risk factor for colorectal cancer – among other cancers – with risk increasing as alcohol intake increases. If you choose to drink, try limiting your intake to no more than one drink daily.” – Tamara Duker Freuman, 10 Ways to Help Reduce Your Risk of Colon Cancer, U.S. News Health; Twitter: @tamaraduker
25. Fit more physical activity into your daily routine. “From housecleaning to running, the latest report finds that moderate physical activity – of all types – reduces the risk of colon cancer. (There was insufficient evidence to make a similar conclusion regarding rectal cancer.)
“Starting Step: Find 10 minutes today to move. Whether taking a break at work or while watching TV, you can jog in place, walk the stairs, do push-ups or chair exercises. Build on that over time by taking more activity breaks or extending the 10 minutes to 30 minutes.” – Preventing Colon Cancer: Six Steps to Reduce Your Risk, American Institute for Cancer Research; Twitter: @aicrtweets