As you might recall from high school biology, the colon, also known as the large intestine, is the final section of the digestive tract. The colon’s job is to facilitate the absorption of water into the blood stream and eliminate undigested food — This seemingly simple job description. Several conditions, however, can interfere with the smooth delivery of the stool from the small intestine to the rectum. Three conditions are colitis (including Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, and diverticulitis.

Colitis refers to a group of conditions that involve inflammation of the small and/or large intestine. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease of the inner lining of the colon and rectum. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are similar in that both are forms of colitis and distinguished by an inflamed intestine. Crohn’s disease, however, causes an inflammation that extends into the deeper layers of the small or large intestinal wall where it can cause more severe consequences.

Because inflammation causes the colon to empty more frequently, the most common symptom of both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease is diarrhea, sometimes severe and accompanied by abdominal cramps. Blood may also appear in the stools, especially with ulcerative colitis. Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss may accompany these symptoms. Sometimes, both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease patients experience constipation.

Diverticulitis is another colon condition that involves inflammation. Diverticula are small pocket-like outgrowths in the weaker portions of the colon walls. Initially harmless, the pockets become receptacles of undigested food and other irritants and can become infected. Constipation and diarrhea are symptoms of diverticulitis.

Unlike other colon problems, there is no intestinal inflammation associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Abnormal muscular contractions in the colon give irritable bowel syndrome its more common name, spastic colon. Spastic colon is characterized by bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and alternating diarrhea and constipation. Fever or bleeding are normally not characteristic of irritable bowel syndrome, but backaches and fatigue are common symptoms.

Diet Suggestions

Increased fiber and lots of water are our passports to better colon health. To restore health and energy, eat a low sugar, low fat, vegetarian diet, rich in high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables. And to avoid aggravating the colon, eliminate most dairy products, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and baker’s yeast.

Drinking lots of water is important, especially if you are increasing your fiber intake. But drink you water between meals. Liquids dilute digestive juices, which are responsible for transforming the food we eat into usable energy. Food that is not completely digested robs us of nutrients and can further annoy an irritated colon.

Helpful Foods, Nutrients & Herbs 

Foods 

Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Oat Bran, Barley, Algae, Bananas, Cabbage, Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Carrot, Watercress, Parsley, Spinach, Salmon, Yoghurt, Fennel, Papaya

Nutrients

Psyllium Seed, Flax Seed, Fish Oils, Zinc, Folic Acid, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iron

Herbs 

Chamomile, Ginger, Licorice Root, Dandelion, Feverfew, Red Clover, Yarrow, Fennel Seed, Peppermint, Oil, Cat’s Claw, Wheatgrass, Barley Grass

Meyerowitz, Steve, and Gabriel Cousens. Power Juices, Super Drinks: Quick, Delicious Recipes to Prevent & Reverse Disease. Kensington, 2010, 122-126