The intestinal system eliminates solid waste products from the body and reabsorbs water. It is composed of the colon (also known as the large intestine or lower bowel) and the rectum.
When the colon cannot function properly an accumulation of toxins can build up in the lymph system, the bloodstream and the intestines This can lead to myriad intestinal concerns, including colitis, constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Other intestinal system concerns include diarrhea and dehydration
EXAMINING THE INTESTINAL SYSTEM
The intestinal system focuses almost exclusively on the colon. The high-fat, low-fiber diet common to most Americans wreaks havoc on this organ.
The Role of the Colon
The main functions of the colon are the elimination of waste and the reabsorption of water. The colon is the primary organ for eliminating cellular waste and digestive waste byproducts. A healthy, well-functioning colon is essential for good digestion and the proper absorption of nutrients.
The colon extracts water and sends it back into the bloodstream. This is vital because the body needs a great deal of water to be able to create and secrete two gallons of digestive fluids every day
Sometimes food and waste matter pass through the colon more quickly than normal due to conditions like the presence of excessive bacteria, emotional stress or the use of prescription drugs. This results in diarrhea, which can cause severe dehydration of body cells. Large amounts of water should he taken to offset this loss.
Constipation, the halting of the eliminative process, plagues untold millions of Americans. This can be caused by stress, poor dietary habits (including a lack of fiber) and a sedentary lifestyle.
Anatomy of the Colon
The first section of the colon is called the rectum. The junction between the ileum of the small intestine and the cecum of the large intestine is the ileocecal valve. This valve prevents the back-flow of waste into the small intestine.
The colon has three sections divided by pronounced flexures, or bends, where it makes near-right-angle changes of direction. Above the pouch of the cecum, the ascending colon rises vertically for almost 18 inches. At the top, the ascending colon bends, and the transverse colon begins. The transverse colon travels horizontally for about two feet at navel height, then turns down again. This two-foot section is the descending colon. The remaining several inches is the rectum, which carries waste out of the body.
Just below the entrance to the ileum (the end of the small intestine), a sac-like tube dangles from the cecum. This is the appendix. The appendix is only 3-6 inches long and one-third of an inch in diameter, so it can easily become clogged with stray pieces of food or waste and get infected; this condition is known as appendicitis.
Several factors promote good colon health. These include adequate dietary fiber, adequate water intake, regular exercise and a healthy balance of favorable bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
Adequate fiber intake provides the colon with bulk to facilitate the process of peristalsis— the involuntary contraction of intestinal muscles to move food through the intestines. Fiber decreases bowel transit time. It also absorbs toxins in the intestinal tract, allowing the bowel to eliminate them from the body.
Water is needed to maintain the healthy mucous lining of the intestines. This lining lubri cates the food and waste as they travel through the colon. Water also helps keep the stool soft and pliable for easy elimination. Hard, dry stools cause strain on the colon. If the body does not get adequate water, the colon will absorb more water from the food and waste there, increasing the chance that toxins will also be absorbed, and causing stools that are dry and dif ficult to pass.
Regular exercise stimulates the action of the colon. Mild aerobic exercise, such as walking, is especially good. Any type of exercise that involves bending of the abdomen may also be helpful in promoting colon health.
A very important component of colon health is the balance of intestinal bacteria or “flora.” More than 400 types of bacteria reside in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract; some are beneficial to your health, or “friendly” and some are deleterious to your health, or “unfriendly.”
The two main types of friendly bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus (or simply “acidophilus”) and bifidus, a name referring to several strains of bifido-bacteria. These bacteria assist in the final breakdown of food, produce B- vitamins, and keep the populations of unfriendly bacteria in check. A decrease in the population of friendly bacteria may greatly reduce the amount of certain B-vitamins available to the body.
Recent research suggests that insufficient amounts of the B-vitamin folate in the diet may increase the risk for colon cancer. Friendly bacteria can be destroyed easily by antibiotics, stress, alcohol, caffeine, high-meat/high-fat diets and high-sugar/low-fiber diets. Low levels of stomach acid also promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics, or supplements containing living bacteria, reintroduce beneficial bacteria to the CI tract. Studies show that they may also hamper the intestinal tract’s cholesterol absorption, thereby decreasing cholesterol levels. As a side benefit to women, a 1992 study found in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that acidophilis may reduce the recurrence of candida infections.
Did You Know?
• The average adult colon is about 6 feet long.
• It takes anywhere from 12-36 hours for food and waste to be processed and eliminated.
• Billions of bacteria (more than 400 types) live in the gastrointestinal tract.
• E. coli, the bacteria found occasionally in under-cooked beef and famous for the serious illness it can cause, lives in the colon and helps break down food substances.