The colon, or large intestine, is an essential part of the digestive system. Colon health plays a significant role in our gut health and in our physical health overall. In this article, we will discuss the importance of the colon and how to improve colon health.
What Is the Colon?
The colon, also called the large intestine or bowel, is a significant part of the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract, or digestive system, is the system of organs in the body that breaks down food and absorbs nutrients from food, providing us with the energy we need to live.
To understand the role that the colon plays in digestion, it is helpful to look at the digestive process as a whole. (1) When we eat food, we chew it and pre-digest it with our teeth and enzyme-rich saliva. Once swallowed, food travels down the esophagus into the stomach, where stomach acid further breaks down the food.
After being broken down in the stomach, food particles enter the small intestine, where they are broken down even further with the help of the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. These food particles are then absorbed in the lower part of the small intestine, passing through the intestinal barrier into our bloodstream, allowing nutrients to be delivered to all of our organs and tissues.
The remaining food waste, primarily liquid, is then passed into the colon or large intestine. Here the water is absorbed into the colon and is further broken down by bacteria in the colon. Finally, the remaining substance is passed into the rectum, where it is then eliminated as stool.
The digestive system is complex and involves multiple organs working together synergistically. Every single part of the digestive system plays an important role, and if any part of the digestive system is impaired, it can affect the entire digestive process.
For example, not chewing your food well enough can make it more challenging for the food to be broken down by the stomach and other digestive organs. Weak stomach acid can also impair digestion, as can poor liver health, issues with the pancreas, or any other part of the process.
When it comes to the colon, one of the most significant issues that affect proper function is an imbalance or lack of beneficial bacteria that break down remaining food waste. Additionally, poor eating habits (particularly overeating) can lead to a buildup of waste in the colon, which can also impair colon health and overall digestion.
For this reason, it is essential to take care of your colon, as well as your entire digestive system, as the health of your digestion directly affects your body's ability to absorb nutrients from your food.
How to Optimize Colon Health
There are many ways you can improve colon health and your gut health overall. However, taking a holistic approach to improving your digestion will provide you with the best and most long-lasting results. A holistic approach focuses on cultivating healthy dietary and lifestyle habits such as eating the right foods, having healthy habits around eating, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, getting proper sleep, and keeping stress levels low.
Best Foods for Colon Health
When it comes to the best foods for colon health, you will want to focus on incorporating a lot of fiber-rich plant-based foods in your diet—primarily organic fruits and vegetables. Fiber is one of the best things you can eat for digestive health, as dietary fiber normalizes bowel movements and maintain bowel health. Additionally, fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels, adds bulk to your stool and softens it, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and supports a healthy gut. (2)
Fiber acts like a scrub brush that cleans your colon as it moves through it and can help you eliminate built-up waste in the colon. This is important because studies now show that the average person today has up to 20 pounds of waste built up in their colon! (3)
Some high-fiber foods include:
- Whole grains
- Chia seeds
It is important to note that too much fiber can also have adverse health effects. Fiber is often stressed, however, because the average person typically does not consume enough of it in their daily diet. The American Heart Association states that "total dietary fiber intake should be 25 to 30 grams a day from food, not supplements. Currently, dietary fiber intakes among adults in the United States average about 15 grams a day." (4)
Many foods that are high in fiber contain compounds known as prebiotics. Prebiotics are plant fibers that support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These fibers can't be broken down fully by stomach acid, and so they are broken down by bacteria in the colon—and essentially act as food for these bacteria helping them grow and thrive.
Some of the best prebiotic foods include:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dandelion greens
- Chicory root
- Yacon root
- Burdock root
- Wheat bran
Many other plant foods are rich in prebiotic fibers, and by eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, you can supply your gut bacteria with plenty of prebiotics. Additionally, if you are focused on restoring colon health, you can supplement with a high-quality prebiotic like arabinogalactan.
Many people associate bacteria with something negative, but there are harmful bacteria and beneficial bacteria. The health of your colon, your gut, and your body in general depends on the right balance of beneficial bacteria. The ideal ratio is to have 90% beneficial or "good" bacteria in the gut and 10% harmful or "bad" bacteria. Most people, however, due to poor dietary and lifestyle habits, have the inverse ratio of 10% good bacteria and 90% bad bacteria. It's no wonder why digestive diseases are on the rise! (5)
To improve colon health, you need to restore the right balance in your gut with fiber-rich foods, prebiotic foods, and probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are found in fermented foods or in supplements. Ideally, it is best to get probiotics from both food and supplements, as the diversity of good bacteria in the gut is what matters most.
For this reason, we at Zuma Nutrition have developed a high-quality Multi-Strain Probiotic that contains eight different strains of bacteria known to be beneficial for gut health. Probiotics are among the best colon health supplements, and a multi-strain probiotic is the best probiotic for colon health. In addition to taking a good colon health probiotic, you can eat foods naturally rich in probiotics, such as:
High-fiber foods, prebiotic foods, and probiotic foods and supplements are the best foods for colon health. Aside from just focusing on the good foods for colon health, however, it is crucial to avoid the foods that are harmful to colon health.
Worst Foods for Colon Health
The absolute worst foods for colon health are foods and substances that kill off the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Unfortunately, these are things that many people consume on a regular basis. Reflect on your own dietary and lifestyle habits and see if any of the things below are things you frequently consume or engage in. If they are, consider the negative effects these have on your health and do your best to limit or completely avoid these foods and lifestyle habits.
Foods and Substances That Are Bad for Colon Health:
- Fried foods
- Artificial sugar
- High amounts of sugar
- Processed foods
- Processed meats—bacon, sausage, ham, hot dogs, etc.
- Refined grains—white bread, white flour, white rice, etc.
- Carbonated beverages
While they may be necessary under certain circumstances, certain medications can also have a negative effect on gut health, particularly antibiotics, as they can kill off beneficial bacteria as well as harmful bacteria. For this reason, it is recommended to supplement with probiotics and prebiotics after a round of antibiotics to restore microbial balance in the gut.
Some lifestyle habits that can have a negative effect on gut health include:
- Sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise)
- Not drinking enough water
- Poor sleep
- High amounts of stress
- Eating too frequently/not giving enough time for digestion between meals
How to Restore Colon Health
To restore colon health, it is recommended to focus on a colon health diet and to:
- Avoid foods and habits that harm your gut health
- Include more foods that improve gut health such as fiber-rich foods, prebiotic foods, and probiotic foods
- Supplement with a high-quality probiotic
- Drink plenty of water each day
- Eat regular meals and avoid overeating
- Keep stress levels low
- Focus on getting good rest
- Exercise regularly
Certain herbs for colon health may also be beneficial. Triphala, for example, is an Ayurvedic formulation that has been used for centuries to support bowel health. If your gut is overrun with harmful organisms like Candida or parasites, then you also need to get rid of these in order to have good gut health—and certain herbs can be very beneficial for this.
Like most systems in our body, our digestive system thrives when we are living in a way that supports our overall health. This is why a holistic approach is recommended for long-term health and wellness. When you eat right, sleep right, think right, exercise often, and take good care of your health, all your organs and organ systems benefit. On the other hand, when you don't eat well, sleep well, think well, exercise, or do things that are good for your health, your organs and organ systems suffer.
This should be pretty obvious; however, it is not always easy to apply the things that we know to be good for us and to stop doing the things that are harmful. We have to really consider the effects of our actions and have a strong motivation to live in a healthy way. It can also help to put things into a different perspective.
Many people feel like taking care of their health is a chore or a burden. If you have ever suffered from a health issue before, however, you know the true value of your health. To be healthy is the greatest gift, and at some point, all of us will face health challenges with age. Knowing the value of health and what a privilege it is to have good health can help you appreciate your body more and will inspire you to take the right actions for your health and well-being.
Besides, when you're healthy, you feel good! There is a saying that "nothing tastes as great as healthy feels," and while there are many, many delicious foods that are good for your health, keeping this perspective in mind can help you make the right choices and avoid the temptation of harmful foods.
In the end, our health is in our hands, and it comes down to the choices that we make each and every day. Having the information is one thing—and that's what we hope to provide in this article—but applying the information to your life is what really matters.
If you want to take care of your colon, look no further than your daily diet and lifestyle. And, of course, if you are experiencing any pain or health issues regarding your colon, seek out the help of a medical professional, so they can help you get back on track.