The Site of Digestion’s Last Chance Is a Barometer of Health
The large intestine or colon is the last part of the body that food comes in contact with, the final digestive organ. As with everything in our universe, the colon can be the source of pleasure and pain. No one can deny the pleasure of a smooth visit to the toilet. On the other hand, the discomfort and disruption of diarrhea need not be described.
The digestion of our food actually begins in our kitchens, since the first digestive organ is the pot in which our food is cooked. During cooking food reacts with the water, salt, or other ingredients and is physically broken down, chemically altered, and energized. The process is repeated three more times in our mouth, stomach, and small intestine, where the nutrients are finally absorbed into our blood.
After the small intestine completes its digestion, the large intestine takes over. The cells of the large intestine are not able to absorb any carbohydrate or protein, so what we usually think of as digestion should be completed by the time food reaches the colon. What, then, is the job of the large intestine in a normal, healthy body?
The most obvious things that the colon does are absorb water from leftovers and move the food out of the body. It also removes salt, adds potassium and bicarbonate to the partially digested food, and secretes mucus, which lubricates and binds the feces.
In carnivores the colon is short and simple because animal foods quickly rot and produce poisons. The longer such food stays inside the body, the more toxins are produced. The short, strong colon of meat-eaters is designed to take out this trash as quickly as possible.
Inside vegetarians, however, much of this transformation of vegetable-quality food into animal quality cells may naturally occur in the colon. But, as in the case of modern Americans who eat up to 60 percent animal foods, this natural process and ability may be dormant. The quality and amount of bacteria that live in the colon may indicate how readily we can transmute vegetables and grains into ourselves. Although it’s not a well known fact, we have as many bacteria in our large intestines as we have cells in our body, nearly 75 trillion. Together these bacteria weigh about three pounds. In addition to bacteria, there are many varieties of viruses, fungi, and yeasts. Altogether, we carry over four hundred species of bacteria and other microbes inside us. The quantity and types of bacteria that grow are determined by their food and environment-which itself is a product of our food.
There are, for example, certain kinds of bacteria that help decompose proteins, and if there is an abundant supply of dead animal matter delivered daily to the colon, these bacteria will flourish and other types will diminish. On the other hand, there are other bacteria that make vitamins out of vegetable-quality foods. This type of bacteria is scarce in modern colons. Research shows that small amounts of vitamin B2, B4, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin K continue to be manufactured in the intestines of modern people, although the amounts created are small. Much of our information about this process comes from studies of people eating large quantities of meat, dairy food, sugar, and refined, processed foods. People who have adapted to a natural grain and vegetable-based diet are ignored by these studies.
The bacteria in our large intestines are 99 percent anaerobic, which means they have to live in an oxygen-free environment. Bacteria in general come from a time in the evolution of life when there was very little difference between the emerging plant and animal kingdoms. Some bacteria, for instance, have the ability to seek their food as well as the ability to photosynthesize food using light. Because bacteria are a stage of life between plants and animals, our intestinal bacteria may be the essential means by which our vegetable-quality food is changed into our animal-quality bodies. As truly vegetable-quality people and their accompanying bacteria become more numerous and available for research, the modern understanding of the colon and its role may be reexamined.
Since practically all our food has already been digested and absorbed by the small intestine, what actually is delivered to the large intestine is a liquid mixture of intestinal secretions, water, dead and discarded cells from the intestinal surface, and the undigestible parts of food like cellulose, the tough material that encloses all grains and beans and is the supporting framework of plants. Cellulose is also called fiber or roughage.
The small intestine is about nine feet long and one and a half inches wide in a living person, though it can be stretched out to over twice that length after death. It begins at the bottom of the stomach and sits coiled on itself as it carries our food downward. The small intestine connects with the beginning of the large intestine at the top of our right hipbone, where a valve is located which opens to squirt its contents into the colon, especially during and right after eating. The small intestine actually connects with the colon about two and a half inches before the small intestine ends. At this point it is slightly enlarged into a two- by three-inch pouch called the cecum. Hanging down off the bottom of the cecum is the three-inch, worm-like appendix.
Because the appendix is designed for dealing with plant food, it is very sensitive to flesh and eggs. Generally only meat-eaters get appendicitis (inflamed appendix), which often develops after eating a big meal of meat, especially barbecued meat.
Modern medical professionals see no use for the appendix and will often take out a healthy appendix during an operation just to avoid possible future trouble. This shows great ignorance of nature’s flawless engineering. Throughout the universe compact things and expanded things are always alternated for maximum stability, balance, and harmony. The appendix is a small, short, compact organ which makes balance between two big, long, and hollower organs (the small and large intestines). When the appendix is removed, the strength and stability of the abdomen is weakened and consequently so is much of a person’s physical stamina. Probably few successful long distance runners have had appendectomies.
Beginning from the cecum and appendix, the colon rises along the right side of the belly (ascending colon) and turns just under the ribcage to travel across to the left side (transverse colon) where it turns again underneath the ribs and heads downward to the left hipbone (descending colon). The places under the sides of the ribcage where the colon changes direction are sometimes the cause of pains that develop during hard exercise. During strenuous physical activity, the blood flow to the intestine can be as low as 15 percent of normal, causing the intestine to stop moving and digesting. What doesn’t move, though, is gas, which may collect at these curves and stretch the intestine walls. This causes pain or a stitch in the side.
When this happens, one remedy is to keep moving but to breathe more with the belly than the chest. This will help massage the intestines and possibly move the gas. If that doesn’t help, pause for a moment and massage the colon. With proper diet and continued exercise this problem will quickly disappear.
At the level of the left hipbone the (descending) colon gets another new name (sigmoid colon) and travels back towards the spine where it becomes the rectum. The rectum is that last part of the large intestine. Both it and the sigmoid colon have extra surrounding muscles to squeeze out feces. which are also called stools. At the bottom of the rectum, which is four to five inches long, there are an inner and an outer ring of muscle, called sphincter muscles, which open and shut. The outer ring is the anus.
The surface of the small intestine looks like an endless series of soft, moving mountain ranges covered with thick, waving forests, while the surface of the large intestine is flat and barren but covered with bacteria. The colon can’t absorb carbohydrates or protein, but it does absorb water, salt, and some vitamins. What passes through the colon is slowly dried out, and the longer it stays in, the harder and drier it usually becomes. The stools that come out differ depending on the person’s diet, activity, and health. Even form day to day and form bowel movement to bowel movement they change. however, one study has concluded that the average American stool is nearly 75 percent water and 25 percent solid matter. This solid matter contains 30 percent dead bacteria, 10-20 percent fat, 10-20 percent inorganic matter, 2-3 percent protein, and 30 percent undigested fiber (roughage) and the dried ingredients of intestinal secretions like bile and sloughed off intestinal cells.
Stools are different in other cultures. For example, the time it takes food to travel the 15 foot digestive tract can vary greatly. The normal American time form eating to bowel movement is three days (72 hours). In countries where people eat only unrefined foods the time can be as short as four to six hours. One elderly English woman who was studied ate only pastries, sweets, and refined food and it takes more than a week for her food to pass out.
The average Englishman takes 77 hours to pass his food, while the average English vegetarian took 49 hours. The average traveling time for a rural African eating mainly corn and beans was 35 hours. In some extreme cases of constipation there have been no bowel movements for a whole year. During this time the blocked feces are building up inside creating what is called an ‘impactment.’ Strangely enough, there are often no major complications during this time except for the minor discomfort of carrying around a 50- to 100- pound ball of dung inside. These treasures usually end up being removed by doctors.
While most constipation is caused by an overly loose or overly contracted colon, occasionally it is caused by an object put into the rectum. It is a tribute to the flexibility of the human body that docto’rs have been called upon to remove objects ranging from a 40-watt light bulb to a tool case complete with tools.
The size and weight of stools will also vary according to one’s diet. In one study, the average weight of African’s stool’s was 17 ounces (one pound): the average for two groups eating a combination African-British diet was seven ounces (one-half pound), while the average Britisher managed only a humble four ounces (one-quarter pound). The large amounts of unrefined grains, beans, and vegetables eaten by the Africans may also explain the absence of colon disease among them, while the British diet of animal food, dairy, and refined foods is probably why they have ten times more bowel cancer than the rural Africans. Colon and rectum cancer is the number two cancer among men and women by the number of deaths and by the number of cases. Two out of three Americans have hemorrhoids.
Irritable colon syndrome or spastic colon may be unknown to many young readers. It is characterized by small, hard stool’s alternating with diarrhea. Often diarrhea is passed in the morning and then there are no bowel movements for the rest of the day. According to Symptoms: The Complete Home Medical Encyclopedia, ‘Irritable colon is a nervous disease that strikes the anxiety-ridden people of the world. Strangely enough, this ailment is hardly known, though everyone, at some time or another, has been indisposed by it. It is responsible for more than half of all disorders of the digestive system. Except for the common cold, it is the most common disorder of man.’
Diverticulosis is another common problem and occurs when small pockets about one half inch in diameter bulge out of the colon wall. About 30 percent of people over 45 have this and in one out of five of these the pockets become infected (diverticulitis). Aside from these colon problems, occasional or chronic constipation or diarrhea is universal. Americans spend over 200 million dollars a year on 800 different laxatives.
One problem common to all ages is pin worms, which are one-half inch long white worms that live in the colon. An estimated 40 million Americans are generously providing a home for these little freeloaders.
Although in general the medical establishment and public are in steadfast agreement that food is negligible in curing disease, the connection between colon problems and diet is beginning to be appreciated. Many doctors and health authorities are advising everyone to eat more whole grains and vegetables, TV ads are eager to proclaim the high fiber content of their cereals, and for a laxative ad to be able to say that it’s both gentle and natural means money in the bank.
None of these remedies can substitute for a natural diet based on whole, unrefined grains. Anyone suffering from colon problems could greatly ease their condition by changing their way of eating today. Since colon disorders afflict mainly middle aged or older people, younger, more flexible people who have discovered the benefits of a natural foods diet should pass on their knowledge to their elders.