Apart from the absorption of water and sodium, the colon is not responsible for the absorption of food nutrients which is technically the work of the small intestines. However, the colon plays a tremendously important role in all around health. It is the site of the fermentation of food materials which the small intestines cannot absorb (i.e., soluble and insoluble fibre) by bacterial flora. This is the reason why dietary probiotics have started to gain popularity in recent years. Bacterial flora in the colon are responsible for producing vitamin K-2 which has been shown to aid in proper blood clotting and the formation of strong bones. As a matter of fact, it is believed thata primary reason why Japanese women from Okinawa (an area famous for it's large number of centenarians and high average life-span) have much lower incidences of osteoporosis is because they consume healthy bacteria within their diets which increases thelevel of vitamin K-2 that their colons absorb.
Evidently, the colon is an important organ for all-around health, however things can go wrong. Like most bodily organs and tissues, the colon is at risk of infection, inflammation, and cancer. There are a number of common conditions that can affect your colon:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition in which the muscles of the colon contract abnormally, causing diarrhea, constipation, cramps within the abdomen, bloating, and gas. It is usually managed through dietary changes/food avoidance and medications.
Colitis is an umbrella term referring to several conditions characterized by inflammation of the large bowel. The varioustypes of colitis include ulcerative colitis (cause unknown), Crohn's disease (cause unknown), ischemic colitis (when there is too little blood going to the colon), infectious colitis (a result of infections of the large bowel), and radiation colitis (caused by radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer).
Symptoms often depend uponthe reason for the colitis but common symptoms include abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, bloody stools, joint pain, vomiting and nausea, as well as a constant urgency to go to the bathroom.
Much like the symptoms, treatments also depend onthe reason for the colitis but may include immune moderating medications, antibiotics to target infections, dietary changes, and possibly surgery if needed.
Diverticular disease involves diverticulosis (where small pouches form in the colon when it is pushed through small openings in surrounding muscle walls) and diverticulitis (when these little pouches become inflamed). There is no official cause but it isbelieved thata diet planlacking in fiber may lead to diverituclar disease.
Symptoms include cramping, bloating, and constipation if only diverticulosis is present but can include lower abdominal pain and vomiting and nausea if it becomes diverticulitis.
Surgery, medications, and dietary changes are usually the only common treatments for diverticular disease.
Cancer of the Colon and Rectum
Cancer of the colon and rectum takes place when the cells that comprise the lining of the colon start to reproduce uncontrollably. This leads to the formation of tumours which can ultimately be fatal. The firstmanifestation of cancer of the colon or rectum are pre-cancerous polyps, or small protruding growths on the tissues of the colon. These in themselvesaren't yet actually cancer but coulddevelop intoa significanttumor.
There usually no symptoms associated with pre-cancerous polyps but when cancer of the colon or rectum occurs, symptoms can include blood in the stool, bowel obstruction, anaemia, and abdominal pains.
Treatment for cancer of the colon or rectum resembles the treatment of many other cancers and involves either chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or some combination of the three. For those who haveany of the symptoms mentioned previously, our recommendation is that you advise your physicianto make certain that together, you canrule outany of these conditions. You may evenwant totake a look at some medical diagnostic tests like the common colonoscopy or even a small bowel follow through procedure, because they arethe ideal way to catch any problems early before they worsen.
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