What is the Function of the Colon?
The colon – formerly referred to as the large intestine but now commonly known as the colon – is part of the digestive system, which is a series of bodily organs beginning at the mouth and ending with the anus.
Where Is the Colon Located?
Shaped like an inverted U, the colon is comprised of three main sections, housed within the abdominal cavity. It begins in the lower right quarter of the abdominal cavity, around the waist area, and runs along the right side of the body (the ascending colon or cecum) until it reaches just below the liver.
Here, it crosses the abdomen (transverse colon) to the left side of the body, and finally descends down (the pelvic or sigmoid colon), and on to its terminating point at the rectum/anus.
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Here, it crosses the abdomen (transverse colon) from the right, to the left side of the body, and finally travels down the descending colon, then on to the sigmoid colon (also known as the pelvic colon), and then to its terminating point at the rectum/anus.
What Is the Function of the Colon?
Responsible for the final stages of the digestive process, the colon's function is threefold: to absorb the remaining water and electrolytes from indigestible food matter; to accept and stores food remains that were not digested in the small intestine; and to eliminate solid waste (feces) from the body.
The colon works to maintain the body's fluid balance. It absorbs certain vitamins, and processes indigestible material (such as fiber), and stores waste before it is eliminated. Within the colon, the mixture of fiber, small amounts of water, and vitamins, etc., mix with mucus and the bacteria that live in the large intestine, beginning the formation of feces.
As the feces makes its way through the colon, the lining absorbs most of the water as well as some of the vitamins and minerals present. 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.
Feces is moved along until the walls of the sigmoid colon contract, causing waste to move into the rectum. Known as peristaltic action, this wave-like motion encourages feces to move closer to the rectum and, finally, be expelled through the anus.
Why Is a Healthy Functioning Colon So Vital?
The colon absorbs vitamins, salts, nutrients, and water. When these essential, life-giving ingredients are being properly absorbed, we feel good. But when the colon is not working well it begins to absorb toxins into the blood stream rather than expelling them. The result is a myriad of problems ranging from constipation and gas, to candida, diverticulitis, and various other chronic health issues.
The colon plays host to a zoo of bacteria: over one hundred trillion microorganisms (bacteria) call the colon home. There are more microorganisms in the colon than are contained within the skin, heart, bone, brain, and the rest of the body's cells combined. A proper balance of healthy bacteria must be maintained inside the colon to avoid being constantly plagued with digestive ailments.
In addition, the world we live in places a serious toxic burden on the colon. Most of the food we eat is not only lacking in nutrients; it's filled with additives, preservatives, and other mysterious chemicals. From the air we breathe and the water we drink, to the thousands of chemicals we come into contact with each day – it all takes its toll on the colon and, ultimately, on our overall health.
A Delicate Balance
The specialized cells of the colon and microorganisms (bacteria) in the gut exist in a delicate balance that can easily be upset by food, stress, chemicals in the environment, and diseases such as parasites, candida, and others.
If digestion and colon function are not working well, the body operates in a state known as auto-intoxication. This means the body is working hard to get rid of toxins, but it cannot keep up because the toxins are being recycled, rather than expelled.
An out of balance colon may be at the root of chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even heart disease, or cancer. To avoid long-term health problems, it is essential to maintain proper colon function.
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