Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Food As Medicine, Part 6: The Colon

WARNING:  This blog post will be peppered with phenomenally corny awesome puns.  Read at your own risk.

I know this is kind of a crappy subject, but we might as well get it behind us.

(See what I mean?)

The colon, although it is often the butt of my jokes, is actually a pretty important subject to cover, healthwise.  Its main function is to absorb water, salt, and some fat-soluble vitamins from whatever passes to it from the small intestine, and to ferment undigested materials and remove waste from the body.  In Chinese medicine, the Large Intestine is related to the Lung and is connected with the emotion of grief.

A healthy colon.

The large intestine is around 4.9 feet long in the average human being, and begins right around or just below the waist on the right side of the body, where it attaches to the small intestine.  It travels up the abdominal cavity (ascending colon) and then across the width of it (transverse colon), then travels down (descending colon) and finishes... well, you know where it finishes.  Let's not get anal about that.

The typical Western diet and lifestyle wreaks havoc on the colon, and many diseases can result, including but not limited to:

-Colitis/Ulcerative Colitis
-Crohn's Disease
-Colon Cancer

A not-so-healthy colon.

There's no question that diseases of the colon can leave you feeling like s***.  Fortunately, there is much that can be done to prevent and/or heal from these conditions. 

1) First and foremost, stress must be managed and reduced.  Our society is a high-stress one, and unfortunately, this stressful condition plays a huge role in many disease, not excluding those of the colon.  (1) (2) (3) (4Point number 3 in my piece about the stomach gives some good tips on stress reduction.

2) Stay away from NSAIDS.  Side effects can wreak havoc on the colon (and the stomach and small intestine, as well). (1) (2)  NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

3)  Try MCT's.  A few (mostly animal) studies show that inclusion of medium-chain fatty acids (such as extra-virgin coconut oil) and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet actually help reverse some of the colon damage that occurs with colitis. (1) (2)  Interestingly, olive oil may make things worse.  (1)

4)  Bring on the curry.  Turmeric (which, as you may know, is one of my favorite supplements), has a tremendous anti-inflammatory effect on the body.  Few human studies have been done regarding turmeric's effect on colitis, but initial results are promising.  Turmeric has also demonstrated potential to be a great colon cancer killer (1) (2)

5)  Garcinia extract.  You've seen infomercials for the stuff on TV touting its power as a weight loss agent.  Well, I haven't been convinced of that, but it does show some promise as a colon cancer fighter.  (1) (2) (3)

6)  Maybe slippery elm.  Scientific studies on slippery elm's effect on colitis are few and far between, but enough people have reported success with it that I thought it was worth a mention.  The University of Maryland Medical Center has a good report on the stuff

7)  Fix your food.  Typical Western diets, low in fiber and high in processed foods, ingredients such as maltodextrin, and red meats seem to have a high correlation to colon issues like cancer and Crohn's disease.  (1) (2) (3) (4)  Meanwhile, diets high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber seem to decrease risk of colon issues and to aid in some existing ones.  (1) (2) (3)  You've heard me preach it before. Eat yer veggies, and cut out the junk food.

8)  Pre and Probiotics.  Take them.  Love them.  Several studies have recently come to light showing the wide array of potential benefits these friendly bacteria have, not the least of which is a very helpful effect when it comes to inflammatory conditions of the colon.  (1) (2) (3)

9) Quercitin.  Quercitin, found in foods such as red wine grapes, citrus, apples, onions, tea, sage, thyme, tea, and dark berries and cherries, has been shown to have potent anti-proliferative properties for colon, prostate, lung, breast, ovarian, and endometrial tumors.  (1) (2) (3)

10)  Avoid your triggers.  Trigger foods, foods which make your condition worse, obviously should be avoided.  These vary from person to person, but the most common for inflammatory conditions of the colon include wheat, meat, spicy foods, high fat foods, and alcohol.

11)  Stop smoking.  Smoking has been shown to contribute greatly to many diseases of the colon, and cancer in particular.  (1) (2)   Interestingly, some studies do show an actual protective effect of smoking to ulcerative colitis while being highly conducive to Crohn's Disease (3) (4), and another shows that there is a link between genetic makeup and the effect of smoking on the colon (1).  But as a general rule, smoking is Bad News Bears for the colon (not to mention the rest of the body).  So cut it out. 

12) And, of course, exercise.  Diseases of the digestive system often create muscle wasting symptoms (Crohn's disease is one such disease).  Adding muscle mass may be highly beneficial to your overall well-being, but exercise also has demonstrated the possibility of helping keep symptoms at bay.  (1) (2) (3)

While inflammatory diseases like colitis can't always be prevented, as we do not always know their cause, you can give your body the best possible shot to defend and/or heal itself with a healthy diet and lifestyle.  See what works for you, dump what doesn't, and try not to make an ass of yourself.  (Sorry-- had to throw in one more).

Questions?  Comments?  Have something that's worked for you?  Post it all here!

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