Creative Eldering: Your Large Intestine
Your large intestine is the last part of your digestive system. It is composed of several segments. They are named for their positions or shapes. Typically, a person’s entire large intestine’s length is 5 feet (1.5m).
The first segment of your large intestine is your cecum, a rounded or sack like segment. The next segment is your ascending colon. This name reflects the fact that it moves from a lower point in your abdomen up to the top of your abdomen just underneath your rib cage. The next segment is your transverse colon which goes horizontally from the right side of your abdominal cavity to the left side. Then the next segment is your descending colon which travels down from just below your rib cage to your lower abdomen. Next is your sigmoid colon, which is S shaped and curves down to reach your rectum, who’s opening to the outside of your body is called your anus. Your large intestine essentially provides a “frame” around your coiled up small intestine.
Once your well-chewed healthy food has been processed in your stomach and small intestine where the vast majority of nutrients have been extracted, and then redirected to the body’s tissues, the remaining food byproducts (which are now mostly waste products) transit through your large intestine on the way to being eliminated from your body.
Your large intestine may also be referred to as your colon or your large bowel. These are essentially interchangeable terms. From the acupuncturist’s viewpoint, the term colon is more common in Great Britain. Large intestine is the typical terminology used in North America.
You most likely think of your digestive tract as a complex system hidden deep inside your body. In fact, we have a colloquial saying in America, “The vault is deep within the ‘bowels’ of the bank building.” This phrase actually means securely hidden from sight as well as being protected and fairly inaccessible. Most people are not very aware of their own digestive system, or its functions. Each component of your digestive system is complex and miraculously designed to interact anatomically, physiologically, and enzymatically with every other digestive structure.
If you are surprised to read that your digestive system is considered to be external to your body, understand that most of your digestive tract is a long hollow tube with openings to the outer world at each end. Your mouth is the entrance portal to your digestive tract. Your anus is the exit. These openings to the outer world allow bacteria and other microbes inside the hollow space.
You could consider this to be akin to a subway transportation system. Air from the great outdoors freely moves in and out of the subway tunnels, just as your microbial friends (and a few bad guys) travel in, out, and around your body. One goal is to always have a great number of friendly bacteria and to limit harmful bacteria. This assists your digestion of food and your absorption of nutrients, protects brain function, provides immune protection, reduces the likelihood or severity of diabetes, obesity, and several other health conditions.
The first priority of your large intestine is to reabsorb and recycle water from the intestinal tract. Along with this a limited amount of vitamins and minerals can be reabsorbed from the material that is destined to be eliminated from your body.
During the waste material’ s transit through the large intestine, specific colon-dwelling bacteria are able to break down the residue of undigested fiber and carbohydrates to nourish themselves. In return, they excrete certain biochemicals which protect and rejuvenate your colon’s mucosal lining.
The symbiotic nature of your intestinal garden of microbes contributes to your health and normal functions. The high rate of colon cancer in our culture is very likely attributable to several commonly acknowledged risk factors as well as the unacknowledged factor of beneficial bacteria deficiency.
Ultimately, the processed stool is collected in the rectum for brief storage before elimination. If your water intake is deficient, the waste will be hard and difficult to pass. Some cases of constipation are solved by simply drinking more water. Other cases are solved by adding dietary fiber, a fiber supplement, and/or supplemental food enzymes or probiotics. The supplemental food enzymes and probiotics both function to foster more complete digestive breakdown of food and biological wastes.
The standard American diet and the default diet of many elders truly is deficient in natural fiber. You can read more about fiber on pages 124 and 125 in my book YOUR AGING BODY CAN TALK.
Some of the higher fiber foods mentioned there include soaked and cooked Navy beans, yellow beans, French beans, split peas, pinto beans and fresh or frozen peas. Avocado, squash, nuts and some fruits have lesser amounts but high-quality fiber. Of course, prunes and prune juice are highly effective sources of dietary fiber. Look for prunes without added sulfite preservatives.
The more you include a broad base of legumes, vegetables, and fruits in your diet, the more natural dietary fiber will be in your diet and your large intestine will benefit from the “bulk”.
If you are going to use a fiber supplement a simple guide to making that choice is on page 125 in YOUR AGING BODY CAN TALK. The main things to watch for is no added sugar or artificial sweeteners or flavorings and no colorants.
Your large intestine is in your body to perform necessary functions: primarily being a conduit to move wastes out of your body while re-absorbing water and a few remaining nutrients. It is not a long-term storage reservoir. Providing sufficient water intake and a healthy diet that is mainly plant-based and fiber-rich are wonderful habits you can incorporate to nurture your large intestine.