The Colon – What is it and How Does it Work?
Our body is made up of different parts, both internal and external. There are so many divisions of the body that it is sometimes hard to understand. Each part of the body is interconnected via neurons or the nerve cells. Most of the parts are interconnected but have different responsibilities for different activities. Because all the parts work together it is not surprising to note that if one part fails to perform its duty it is a matter of concern for the individual.
In this article we are going to talk about one of the most important parts of an individual’s digestive system, Colon. Later on we are going to discuss how the colon works, why is it important to use colon cleansers, what type of cancer is the colon exposed to and what is colonoscopy.
Colon – A General Idea
The colon is also called the large bowel. It is an organ of the gastrointestinal tract and is responsible for absorbing fluids, forming stools and eliminating stools. It is actually the last part of the digestive system in most vertebrates. The colon is basically responsible for extracting salt and water from solid waste before it is eliminated from the body. This however does not mean that the colon plays an important role in the absorption of food and nutrients. It does not!
Structure of the Colon
The colon is basically a hollow tube that is surrounded by body muscles. Its length is about 5 feet and its width is about 2.5 inches (diameter). It has an inside layer that is supposed to protect the nerves located in the colon wall. This inner lining is called the lumen or the interior. The nerves actually send and receive messages to the brain about colon. The receptor cells are responsible for carrying these messages to the brain. They take in the energy and convert it to neural impulses, a language understandable to the brain. These neural impulses are read by the brain and then the brain directs the appropriate action to be taken for the colon. Fluids help to maintain colon health. The colon starts where the small intestine ends and extends to the anus.
The Colon has a very delicate lining. The color lining, if good and healthy performs the following functions.
- Protects nerve endings in the colon wall. This enables the receptor cells to perform faster and more effectively. And this further increases the reliability that the messages will be transferred correctly to and from the brain.
- It lubricates stool passage promoting stool transit.
- It also eases the movement of fluids in and out of the colon. Nutritional uptake of vitamins is optimized.
- It also promotes the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria. This bacteria further has many responsibilities, one of the most important ones being protection against infection and grooming the colon.
The colon is made up of a variety of parts. These are:
- Illeocecal Valve. This is a kind of membrane made up of mucus. It is located exactly where the small intestine meets the colon. Materials from the small intestine go through this valve into the colon.
- Vermiform Appendix. This appendix is a twisted form of coiled tube and is about 3 inches long. Many studies have been conducted but the function of this is still not known.
- Cecum. This is responsible for receiving fecal materials as they enter the colon.
- Ascending Colon. The ascending colon is located on the right side of the abdomen. It is responsible for absorbing water from the feces as it moves upward in the colon.
- The Transverse Colon. The transverse colon connects to the descending colon. As feces move across the transverse colon, stools begin to take form.
- Descending Colon. Stools which are more solid now, move down the descending colon. Stools can be stored in the descending colon for some time.
- There are numerous other parts of the colon, not discussed here, which perform different functions.
Colon health is extremely important. For the correct bowl movement and to avoid constipation and other such actions, it is extremely important to keep colon healthy.
The Colon can be exposed to cancer as well. Colon cancer is the one which starts in the large intestine that is, the beginning of the colon or the rectum that is the end of the colon. It has been recently learnt that colon cancer is becoming very common amongst people. However if it is diagnosed earlier, it can be treated successfully.
Although there is no specific cause of colon as such but you have a high risk of colon cancer if you are older than 60, eat a high diet in red or processed meats, have cancer elsewhere in the body, have a family history of colon cancer or have a personal history of breast cancer.
The symptoms of colon cancer include:
- Abdominal pain in the lower abdomen.
- Blood coming out with the stool.
- Narrow stools.
- Weight loss with no known reason.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
If you ever feel that you are facing such symptoms, you need to consult your doctor immediately so that the necessary steps are taken before anything gets worse.