The colon is actually a part of the digestive system. Think of it this way: When you prepare a meal, you gather the ingredients, mix and cook them into a tasty dish, serve them, eat them and then clear the table putting the leftovers in the refrigerator and throwing out the trash and the table scraps. That’s much like the digestive system works. We consume the food, add enzymes, bile salts, and acids to aid in digestion, extract the nutrients in the small intestine, and then place the “leftovers” in the colon. Here water and leftover nutrients are extracted and placed in the bloodstream and the wastes are “thrown out”.
Most body systems books list the colon as a separate body system because of its importance and the number of things it does, but I look at it as the end of the digestive system because of its function of extracting any nutrients left in the “waste” that makes it that far in the process.
One of the most important functions of the colon is “water reclamation.” It takes a lot of water to keep the nutrients in solution and you have a veritable “stream” flowing through the small intestine where the villi along the intestinal walls are swept with its nutrient-rich flow extracting the nutrients and placing them in the bloodstream for circulation to all the body cells and tissues. If this stream were to continue all the way to the rectum, we would have constant diarrhea and be constantly dehydrated. So, the colon reclaims that water and any nutrients it may contain.
The colon also moves waste along for evacuation. To allow for the fluctuations in the quantity of waste that the bowel may be required to hold at any one time, it is actually made up of three layers of “rubbery” muscle tissue that can constantly expand and contract – moving the waste along and “drawing” the extra still nutrient-rich water out. Overfilling can cause some problems, but we’ll discuss those in our next blog!
I take every opportunity to remind our clients and customers that the colon has no “pump”. I think it is interesting that we call waste evacuation a “bowel movement” because it requires movement to move the waste along. So, get some exercise. A fifteen-minute walk after a meal will not only aid the digestive process but will also help accommodate the waste removal of the residual dietary waste.
Take care of your colon and it will take care of you – for life!