End of Line - The Large Intestine (Gut Series Pt. 5)
The large intestine is the last part of our digestive tract, thus this will be the last article in the gut series. We have already explored the stomach, liver, pancreas and small intestine.
The large intestine is about five feet long and includes the colon, rectum and anus. It is not as long as the small intestine – its name is referring to the width – about 6-7cm.
Although, the large intestine is commonly referred to as the colon, the colon is only a part of the large intestine, not the entire organ. So technically, the term colon is not accurate.
The large intestine is where we store and eliminate waste – on every level.
* What could not be digested the human digestion (such as fibre), gets broken down by the gut bacteria in the large intestine.
* This is the place where gut bacteria live and proliferate, ideally in a 70:30 ratio when it comes to the beneficial kind.
* Certain vitamins are produced by their fermentation (namely B-vitamins, including B12, and vitamin K) and gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) can be the by-products of this process. B-vitamins are crucial for a properly functioning nervous system. Vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting.
* The innermost layer of the large intestine is called mucosa. There are many mucous glands here to secrete mucus to lubricate the smooth surface and protect it from rough food particles.
* Another function of the large intestine is to reabsorb water and maintain the body’s balance of fluids.
A healthy gut is absolutely essential for overall health, body and mind:
- about 80% of our immunity resides in our intestines
- 95% of our serotonin is created in the gut (this is called the gut-brain axis)
You might have heard the term ‘leaky gut’. Intestinal permeability or leaky gut is a scenario where the tight junctions in the intestinal lining become compromised. It can refer to both intestines, small and large. In both cases, undigested food particles can get into the blood stream and cause a huge immune reaction.
In the case of the small intestine, though, it mostly means that the villi have been flattened out and thus we are unable to absorb enough nutrients – the nutrients leak/leach out.
When it comes to the large intestine, what should be separated – the waste – leaks into the blood stream. This causes not only a huge immune reaction – it spreads toxicity into the whole body.
Now, this is the interesting bit.
Intestinal permeability is not a bad thing as such. In fact, we need a certain level of it in order to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream – from both, the small and large intestines. Also, water needs to be able to soak through the wall of the large intestine.
When a baby/fetus grows in the mother’s womb, the gut is fully permeable to receive nourishment directly into the bloodstream (via the umbilical cord). The fetus doesn’t need to digest yet. Once born, nature has created a perfect solution – provided the mother with the first milk, colostrum. Colostrum contains nutrients, growth factors, mother’s antibodies, as well as prebiotics to support the baby’s gut. Yet one of the main benefits is sealing those junctions in the intestinal lining so that the baby’s digestion is able to start functioning.
I have also heard recently that temporarily everybody gets increased intestinal permeability after ingesting gluten. However, the difference is that not everybody develops leaky gut and the accompanying problems. Those people who have no problems eating and digesting wheat or other gluten-rich grains seem to be able to seal those intestinal junctions very quickly.
What are some typical symptoms of leaky gut?
- eczema or psoriasis
- acne, rosacea
- allergies (food or environmental)
- frequent migraines
- hormonal imbalances and thyroid issues
- low immunity
- bloating and gas, diarrhoea or constipation
- brain fog, poor memory and concentration
- mood swings, depression, anxiety
- ADD and ADHD, also autism
- nutritional deficiencies (despite eating a varied, healthy diet and possibly taking supplements)
- underweight children who are failing to thrive
What causes leaky gut?
1) The major cause of leaky gut is STRESS. Do you remember me mentioning stress in every single article so far? Yes, stress is responsible for most problems in human health. Whether this is mental/emotional or physiological stress (lack of sleep and/or certain nutrients, sedentary lifestyle, unsuitable foods) the result is the same – inflammation.
2) Foods that contribute to leaky gut are gluten, dairy, sugar and junk food (especially food additives and preservatives), alcohol and caffeine.
3) Certain pharmaceutical drugs and procedures irritate the gut mucosa, namely aspirin, antibiotics, steroids, contraception, chemotherapy and radiation.
4) Fungal, parasitic and bacterial infections often lead to leaky gut (we already talked about SIBO, SIFO and candida overgrowth in the small intestine article).
Once the gut lining becomes irritated, our digestion becomes seriously compromised. One problem is the inability to absorb necessary nutrients (and thus reducing the body’s ability to rebuild and regenerate), but even more serious is the problem with bacteria, undigested foods and toxins getting into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the body will turn on high alert and attack these invaders. These are the roots of ANY autoimmune condition – where seemingly the body attacks itself.
In the conventional medicine leaky gut is not a thing as it tends to look at the body as a set of separate systems and organs – not one whole. Yet, if we understand just how much our gut affects EVERY body system, we can more than just eliminate all kinds of issues – we can tap into the body’s regenerative powers and THRIVE!
Diseases of the large intestine
I do not fancy going into details about all the associated conditions with the large intestine (like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulosis and diverticulitis…).
However, I will mention colorectal (also known as colon) cancer as it is one of the leading types of cancer in the Western countries, and 3rd most common worldwide.
I often ponder why people are so scared of colon cancer and decide to undergo invasive, often more damaging than helping procedures, to ‘get rid of it’. While it is not as simple as stating that ‘this and that’ will prevent or cure cancer, there are some common-sense steps we can take - these steps will also help heal other serious large intestine issues:
- Starting with the diet and lifestyle is certainly the first step. People who regularly consume cured meats high in nitrates and preservatives are especially increasing their risks of colorectal cancer. As a general rule, avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods, is a must. Food additives and preservatives are incredibly pro-inflammatory.
- It is a well-known fact that most of us in the Northern hemisphere are lacking vitamin D (a steroid hormone responsible for just about EVERY function in the body) – so making sure we tan safely in the warmer seasons and take a high potency supplement in the darker months is always a good idea.
- Prioritizing sleep and some quiet time every day is a must to reduce stress levels and give the body a chance to heal.
- Increase your intake of a colourful rainbow of vegetables (cooked and raw) and fruits (2-3 portions daily of lower sugar varieties – apple, pear, orange, grapefruit, a cup of berries, including plums and cherries).
- Give fasting a go for a day and/or have a vegetable juice day (freshly juiced) once a week is wonderfully healing and invigorating.
- Include chlorophyll-rich foods – barley grass, spirulina, chlorella (chlorella is especially powerful at healing the gut and supporting a balanced microbiome), dark leafy greens, sprouts and microgreens.
- Try some colostrum – cow’s, goat’s or other, as long as it is from pasture-raised animals.
- Add some crucial nutrients (‘building blocks’) for healing – zinc, B-vitamins including B12, high potency vitamin C (ideally from foods) and good quality collagen (to help seal the intestinal junctions).
- Consuming fermented foods and drinks on a regular basis is far more effective than taking probiotic supplements – especially drinking sauerkraut juice.
- Let’s remember the large intestine is where we store and eliminate waste. It is vitally important that it gets eliminated every single day. If elimination is a problem, then taking mild laxatives – like magnesium citrate (daily) or senna leaves (not everyday) – is a good solution. Sometimes it’s necessary to do enemas daily until the intestine heals and starts eliminating properly.
And the best piece of information:
– the large intestine’s mucosa is made of epithelium. Epithelial cell lining can regenerate in a matter of days, in under a week. This is excellent news, my friends! Can you see now why colon cancer doesn’t have to be such a monster? In fact, it can be the easiest of cancers to heal as the intestines are the fastest regenerating organs in the body.
Our body is designed to heal!
My favourite health advocate Chris Wark (https://www.chrisbeatcancer.com/) is a 20-year colon cancer survivor. His website and now also books are jam-packed with information, inspiration and hope. He had been diagnosed at the age of 26 after spending most weekends eating BBQ with his friends and clients as was the lifestyle of a young estate agent. When he asked his oncologist to take time out to think about his healing journey the doctor told him he was insane for not starting chemo straight away and that he would die…
20 years later he is healthier than ever, inspiring people all over the globe to take their own power to transform their lives.
And finally, let’s look at the psycho-somatic implications.
We already said that the large intestine is where we store and eliminate waste at every level. When we experience any difficult or traumatic experience in life, first we need to digest it (this will be more to do with the stomach). Once digested, we may hold onto it for some time (‘storing waste’) till we are ready to LET GO.
In the Traditional Chinese Medicine the large intestine belongs to the element of Metal. Metal is strong, solid, cold but can be warm and flexible, too.
When the Metal element is imbalanced we tend to get stuck in the solid state – holding onto – emotions, experiences or even material things (like hoarding and being unable to throw things away even when damaged and broken).
While processing and holding onto things is perfectly natural, only as long as it doesn’t turn into toxicity that burdens and poisons. This would be the equivalent to chronic constipation.
The most healing thing we can gift our large intestine (and our whole – body and mind) is forgiving and letting go.