The colon, or the large intestine, is a tubular organ approximately 5 – 6 feet long and 2 – 3 inches in diameter. It connects to the small intestine and then forms something of an upside down horseshoe inside the abdomen: the ascending colon runs up the right side of the abdomen, the transverse colon runs across the top of the abdomen, the descending colon runs down the left of abdomen and then the sigmoid colon attaches to the rectum.
Although most absorption of beneficial elements of the food we eat occurs in the small intestine, the large intestine absorbs some minerals, nutrients and excess water from the digested residue of what we have eaten. The process of digestion starts in the mouth. Saliva reacts to food as it moves down to the stomach where it is broken down into chyme and liquified. The chyme is moved through the small intestine and into the colon by a process called peristalsis or mass muscular movements. These are initiated by the nerve supply to the colon. Toxins and waste materials are then discharged through the rectum and anus. The process of digestion and elimination normally takes between 12 and 24 hours.
Millions of bacteria are contained in the lining of the colon. Some of them are helpful and some of them are destructive. The job of the healthy bacteria is to help break down and harvest nutrients from food, to metabolize food, and to create vitamins, enzymes and necessary acids. They also play a role in fighting off infection and dangerous pathogens that find their way into our digestive system. An overabundance of unhealthy bacteria can lead to our feeling fatigued, having digestive problems and a low resistance to illness.
A large percentage of our immune system resides in the large intestine. The gut connects with more immune system cells than any other part of the body. It also has a specialized set of immune cells whose job is to release lymphocyte cells that attack disease and illness.
New research has found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric-Acid), all of which play a key role in mood. Our gut produces 95% of serotonin, a vital mood regulating neurochemical. Our gut can “talk” to the brain directly with the serotonin, creating a significant and vital pathway to the brain, impacting our emotional well-being and mental health.
To ensure a healthy colon we need sufficient water, good nerve tone, the proper biochemical nutrients and intestinal flora. We can then experience a feeling of well-being because we are assimilating and eliminating properly.