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The Colon Health Connection

The colon, the final pit stop of the digestive system, is not merely the body’s waste disposal unit, but a complex and critical system that needs to remain in balance with a sensible diet and wise lifestyle choices.

The colon, or large intestine, forms part of the gastrointestinal tract and its main function is to absorb water, salts and some nutrients from food waste before it is passed out of the body. Powerfully built with strong muscles, the colon’s walls exert pressure on its contents to move them along. Apart from regulating the water balance in the body, the colon also plays host to billions of good bacteria that keep digestion healthy and prevents the build-up of waste.

Good colonic health

Maintaining optimal health of the colon requires a holistic approach. No part of the body exists in a vacuum, and overall good health is required for all the body’s systems to function well. This includes and applies to the colon too.

Therefore, balanced nutrition and a sensible diet are essential towards reducing the risk of many diseases including colorectal cancer. Moderation is the key which applies as much to good nutrition as to a happy life. Eat what you like and enjoy the festive feasting, but always in moderation. Leading an active lifestyle with regular light or moderate exercise is also helpful not only in maintaining overall fitness but also in keeping to a healthy weight.

It is also important to get adequate sleep as chronic lack of sleep leads to fatigue and decreased immunity, resulting in increased susceptibility to viruses, bacteria and other illnesses. Stress too must be managed – while some is unavoidable and is in fact important for normal bodily functions, it is essential to manage stress levels.

Regular screening should also be part and parcel of good colon and overall health. It is recommended that screening for colorectal cancer should begin from age 50 onwards. There are two tests that can be done: a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which checks for the microscopic presence of blood, or a colonoscopy, which involves the use of a tube-like camera to examine the inside of the colon. It is recommended that a FIT is done once a year and a colonoscopy once every 10 years.

When things go wrong

If something goes awry in this ecosystem – such as an infection, inflammation or imbalance in the gut bacteria – significant problems can arise. For instance, an invasion of bad bacteria due to contaminated food or water can trigger the colon to reduce its absorption of water, resulting in watery stools or diarrhoea that is meant to ‘flush’ out the invaders. If diarrhoea is chronic, it can point to conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases, or irritable bowel syndrome. The causes of these may be psychological (anxiety or stress) or dietary (intolerance to certain foods). Conversely, constipation – the inability to pass motion or the infrequent passing of dry, hard stools – can signal dehydration, illness or even painful anal growths such as piles and fissures.

Other diseases of the lower gastrointestinal region include:

Colonic polyps: Abnormal excess tissue growth in the colon that can become cancerous. In familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a genetic mutation causes thousands of these colonic polyps to grow. The danger is not limited to the colon as these growths can affect many organs.

Colorectal cancer: Uncontrolled growth of cells that invade healthy cells in the body and may spread to other organs.

Ulcerative colitis: Ulcers of the colon and rectum.

Diverticulitis: Inflammation or infection of pouches in the colon.