A Definition of Colon Health
- the descending colon
- the ascending colon
- the transverse colon
- the sigmoid colon
The descending colon travels down the left abdomen, the ascending colon travels up the right side of the abdomen, the transverse colon runs across the abdomen, and the sigmoid colon is the short curve of the colon that sits just above the rectum.
The colon’s purpose is to prepare for eliminating waste from the body while reabsorbing fluids. Specifically, the colon removes water and salt and some nutrients that eventually form stool. The muscles lining the colon squeeze its contents through, and the colon’s coating of billions of bacteria help keep the body healthy.
Colon health is adversely affected by age, family history, unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and obesity. There are several conditions that cause the colon to work improperly including inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and colorectal cancer. Treatment for many colon-related conditions include medication, surgery, and diet and lifestyle changes.
The Connection Between Diet and Colon Health
There is a strong connection between diet and colon health. Dr. Joshua Melson, a gastroenterologist who specializes in colorectal cancer at Rush University Medical Center, explains there also is a strong correlation between obesity and an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Similarly, the National Cancer Institute highlights the connection between obesity and increased colon cancer risk and points to factors such as increased levels of insulin in the blood and insulin resistance as the reasons for the increased risk in obese people.
Additionally, the American Cancer Society claims the links between diet, exercise, and weight and colorectal cancer are among the strongest for any type of cancer, and the Colon Cancer Foundation estimates that 50%-75% of colorectal cancer can be prevented with lifestyle changes and healthy eating. In short, nutrition plays a powerful role in colon health.
Foods that Promote a Healthy Colon
Your diet plays a key role in your colon health and can reduce your risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders like constipation, diverticulosis, and colon cancer. There are a few diet dos to improve colon health:
- Fruits and vegetables – Fruits and vegetables contain fiber that helps the colon’s contents move through. The fiber in fruits and vegetables also helps people have regular bowel movements and avoid constipation. Nutrients found in fruits and vegetables reduce inflammation and act as antioxidants that remove harmful substances from the colon and the body as a whole. One study found that fruits and vegetables also contain folate, a B-complex vitamin that may lower colon cancer risk
- Whole grains – Whole grains also contain dietary fiber that reduce constipation
- Fish – Studies are finding that consuming fish reduces the risk of colon cancer, especially when you substitute fish for red meats
- Dairy products – Dairy products may reduce the risk of colon cancer and gastrointestinal problems; active bacteria in yogurt aid in maintaining colon and gastrointestinal health by balancing good bacteria that help digest food with bad bacteria that are toxic. Specifically, the lactobacteria and acidophilus found in yogurt combat colon cancer, and calcium in milk also may reduce colon cancer risk
- Water – Drinking plenty of water improves colon health by making the colon work to absorb it into the system. Water also aids the colon by hydrating it and cleansing the entire body
The Benefits of Probiotics for Colon Health
Probiotics and other vitamin supplements promote colon health by delivering beneficial bacteria and nutrients to the gut that provide key support for overall digestive health. The bacteria help the body produce vitamin B12. Yogurt, soy beverages, and fermented foods like miso and kimchi also contain probiotics.
If you supplement your diet with probiotics, you should strive to take those containing 10 billion live bacteria per dose. It’s especially important to take probiotics when you are taking antibiotics because antibiotics kill not just the bad bacteria that cause illnesses but also the beneficial bacteria in your gut that improve immune function and digestive and colon health.