When thinking about getting tested for possible health problems, most people think about routine blood tests, eye exams, mammograms and such. A colon health check up is usually far from our minds. But an unhealthy colon can be a dangerous thing.
Fortunately, a little more awareness and digestion-friendly lifestyle changes can keep many colon problems in check. But first, here are some facts to help you know your colon better:
- The colon, or large intestine, is a tube that connects the rectum with the anus.
- The major function of the colon is to regulate bowel function.
- If the muscles in the colon don’t work at the right speed for proper digestion or if the coordination with muscles in the rectum or pelvis is somehow interrupted, it can result in abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea—symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which affects more than one million Americans.
- According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the US.
Here is a short but useful list of ways in which you can care for your colon:
Exercise regularly: Of course, the health benefits of exercise have been only too well documented by now, but physical movement has one huge colon-friendly benefit: it can prevent constipation, which affects more than 15% of the American population, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Constipation indicates that waste material is spending too much time in the colon. This can, over time, weaken the walls of the colon and cause all sorts of health problems. Physical movement helps move stool along and out of your system, keeping the digestive system healthy.
Eat more fiber: Whole grains such as buckwheat, barley, quinoa and wholewheat can prevent colon cancer, according to health educator Dr. Mache Seibel. Oats and flax seeds, are fiber superstars, too, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps to move waste through your body and adds “bulk” to the stool. If your bowel movements are regular, smooth and trouble-free, your colon is sending you a good sign. Here is a list of 40 everyday foods rich in fiber.
Reduce your alcohol intake: Alcohol can have a dehydrating effect, which can slow down bowel movement. According to German researcher Christiane Bode, Ph.D., regular consumption of alcohol can diminish the muscle contraction required for healthy bowel movement, leading to the diarrhea often observed among those who drink too much. For the same reason, you should be careful consuming caffeinated beverages such as coffee and cola drinks. Remember, both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which means they leach water from your body, causing stools to become hard and dry. This can result in several digestive problems.
Drink more water and caffeine-free fluids: They remove toxins from your body, and support good digestion. WebMD recommends drinking water as the best source of hydration, adding that fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas and clear soups are also good sources of fluid that help colon health. The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board advises that women consume 91 ounces of water each day from beverages and foods; men need to consume 125 ounces daily. Remember, this recommendation includes fluids in the foods you eat — so don’t overdo a good thing!