It’s a myth that 90% of disease starts in the colon. But it’s still true that this section of the large intestine is one major factor in overall health.
Making up most of the five feet or so of the large intestine (along with the rectum, the final six inches), you can help keep yours in top shape with proper diet. That means, this is no myth, adequate fiber. Good sources include bananas, oats, and a wide variety of other foods. Supplements (like Metamucil) can help, when not overused.
Another unfounded health claim is that colon cleansing (also known as irrigation, colon hydrotherapy, or a colonic) is essential to keeping it free of toxins. Toxins can build up in the colon, but that occurs as a result of disease, which disqualifies a person from having a colonic anyway. Seek professional medical attention instead.
On the flip side, when health advocates claim that probiotics aid intestinal health, they are right. The popular yogurt variety Activia, manufactured by Dannon, does have clinically tested and real-world proven benefits. There are lots of others, too. Whether in the form of natural foods, food additives, or supplements probiotics either add or encourage the growth of the beneficial flora that live in the gut and perform a vital role in digestion.
There are, unfortunately, some organisms that can live in the colon that are not helpful. Intestinal parasites the world over account for millions of upset stomachs and worse annually. A variety of protozoans (one-celled animals) and helminths (parasitic intestinal worms) can have health effects that range from mild to fatal.
Some of those organisms are thought to play a role in the development of colon cancer. There are many other contributing factors, some of which are themselves produced by bacteria, such as ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and many more.
Less serious conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome, can still produce unpleasant symptoms, even when they don’t represent a serious ailment. Bloating and painful spasms are only two among many. To make matters a little more obscure, as is often the case in health issues, those same symptoms are present in more serious conditions like colitis, diverticulitis, and ulcers.
In order to distinguish one intestinal ailment from another, physicians will often perform a colonoscopy, frequently in conjunction with other diagnostic procedures. In a colonoscopy, a long tube is inserted into the intestine to allow for direct visual examination.
That exam and its results can be supplemented by X-rays taken after ingesting or flushing with a barium liquid (a mildly radioactive compound that provides a contrast dye for the images). To check things out from the other end, doctors may perform an endoscopy, including using a very clever pill (called a capsule endoscope) containing a tiny camera that takes photos on its way through the digestive tract.
Fortunately, you can do a great deal to judge (and promote) your own colon health. Proper diet, appropriate exercise, and maintaining a good attitude will go along way toward that, while promoting overall well being. And that’s no fairy tale.