Colon Health & Preventing Common Ailments such as Hemorrhoids

**Not Medical Advice**  Copyright Max Wettstein 2012

“There is blood in my poop!” - It is probably just a hemorrhoid, but did you know, blood in your stool could also be a sign of colon cancer?  If you’re over age 50, have a family history of colon cancer, or have reoccurring blood in your stools, you should speak with your doctor immediately and he’ll probably recommend a colonoscopy – a relatively simple outpatient procedure that only takes about an hour while you relax, laying on your side, and with only mild discomfort, a camera is inserted up your rectum and into your colon to look for polyps, (benign growths that are a precursor to cancer), or worse, malignant tumors.  With a colonoscopy, precancerous polyps are discovered and removed before it is too late and they become malignant.

     Sooner or later, I knew I would have to address this taboo subject of the colon and the health issues that go along with it.  What better opportunity than this month…did you know that March is colon cancer awareness month?  Cancer is beyond the realm of my knowledge, so the following discussion is really intended to heighten your awareness of common colon ailments, and motivate you to incorporate preventive measures into your lifestyle, including a colonoscopy if you fall into the high-risk group described above.  The colon, rectum and anus are not glamorous topics or very fun ones to write about, but over the course of the last few months, many of our fellow pilots have approached me about this matter, specifically about herbal, naturopathic colon cleansing, something that would probably benefit all of us, at least once a year.  I’ve suggested in several other articles that a colon detox is a very essential part of regular body maintenance and a healthy lifestyle overall, and now, I would like to go more in depth, and also talk about colon health in general, mostly focusing on what makes a colon healthy and how to prevent common ailments such as constipation, hemorrhoids, colitis, polyps, etc. – Like I said, not a pretty subject, but I owe it to your health and many of you have an active interest.  If you don’t mind, in order to save time, I’m going to skip over detailed colon anatomy and physiology though.

 Fiber: A Colon’s Best Friend

For those of you who like to get straight to the point, if there is one thing you could do to prevent almost all colon ailments it would be to eat more fiber.  In all of my research the common solution to preventing and treating almost every problem was to increase fiber intake, up to about 30 grams per day for most of us, or 15 grams of fiber per 1000 calories eaten.  Fiber is a colon’s best friend.  This is because fiber: adds volume to stools, draws water into the stools and softens them, exercises the muscles of the colon walls, cleans the colon walls, serves as food for the friendly bacteria that live in the colon, and increases waste transit time, thereby minimizing exposure to carcinogenic waste and potential impaction of fecal matter.  All of these benefits combine to prevent constipation, and harder stools, thereby eliminating straining during bowel movements or BMs.

     There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.  Soluble dissolves in water, will absorb into the bloodstream, digest completely and is found in foods like oat bran, psyllium hulls, and apple-pectin.  Insoluble fiber is indigestible and is found in foods like wheat bran and root-vegetables, and is responsible for cleaning your colon walls as it passes through.  Soluble fiber feeds the bacteria in you colon, (the byproduct of which is methane gas, a common cause of flatulence!).  Friendly bacteria naturally live in your colon to complete digestion, and defend against yeast, (Candida), parasites and other pathogens, and are normally kept in a healthy population balance.  Soluble fiber also provides the added benefit of lowering LDL cholesterol, cleaning plaque from our blood vessels, and lowering risk of type-2 diabetes.  As digested food-waste enters the colon from the small intestine it is in liquid form.  One of the main actions of the colon is to reabsorb moisture from this food-waste, to form stools.  If the stool remains in the colon too long however, it becomes hard, impacted and difficult to eliminate and that is when problems start to develop.  Abundant fiber keeps moisture and volume in the stools, and speeds transit time – the key to prevention of all problems! 

 **The root cause in the cycle of all non-hereditary colon ailments is insufficient fiber in the diet, leading to dehydrated, low-volume, stagnant stools and infrequent bowel movements.

 The Cyclic Progression of All Colon Ailments

All colon and BM problems generally develop in this progressive cycle:

1.     Low-fiber, dehydration is typical of ‘American/Western’ diet, (As well as sedentary lifestyle).

2.     Stools are then low-volume, dehydrated, and hard.

3.     Stool transit time becomes slow and difficult, and constipation occurs.

4.     Stools can become impacted, toxic and carcinogenic to colon lining, over time, leading to inflammation, herniations, ulcers, abscesses, and polyps.  Polyps can become malignant.

5.     Chronic constipation, infrequent BMs and straining during BMs can lead to hemorrhoids and fissures in the anus.

So if you want to stop reading here, just make sure you do four things on a daily basis:

  1. Stay Hydrated.
  2. Eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.
  3. Don’t postpone a BM, and don’t strain during your BM(I realize it is embarrassing to use the lavatory when the flight attendants and a line of passengers are waiting for you to come out, but if you eat enough fiber you’ll be quick!)
  4. Exercise will also stimulate the bowels.

If you follow these guidelines each day, barring any hereditary factors, you should have a regular and reliable colon and won’t need to keep reading material by the toilet anymore.

Colon Flora: Beneficial Bacteria Population

As I briefly mentioned earlier there are ‘friendly’ bacteria that inhabit your colon, billions of them in fact, up to two pounds worth!  A healthy body and colon maintains an ideal balance of these microorganisms to complete the digestion process (through fermentation), protect you from various disease causing pathogens that you unknowingly ingest, and assist in eliminating toxins.  They also help protect you from yeast, (Candida) overrun.  Yeast overgrowth is linked to a myriad of nagging illnesses from mild infection to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and most of us don’t even know when we’re affected.  Our friendly flora also produce B-vitamins, especially B-12, as a byproduct of fiber and sugar metabolism.  Their primary food source is soluble fiber, and other partially digested carbohydrates that make it into the colon.  They do have one negative side-effect as most of us have experienced, and that is they also produce methane gas when they metabolize fiber and carbs during the completion of the digestion process, AKA, flatulence.  So this is something to consider when you’re adding fiber into your diet – do it slowly, as to give your colon time to adjust!  (Note: Gas can also be a problem when lactose-intolerant individuals consume dairy products.)

So what can disrupt your friendly bacteria colonies and shift them out of balance?  Low-fiber diets, long term use of antibiotics, use of corticosteroids, a diet high in sugar, which yeast/Candida thrives on, episodes of high fever, and bile acids, among other causes.  The good news is there are cultured foods and probiotic supplements available to you which can maintain and reestablish your friendly flora balance.  For the whole food approach, go with yogurt and cottage cheese made with ‘live active cultures’.  For OTC probiotic supplements, look for refrigerated products containing bacteria such as Bifodophilus, Acidophilus, and Lactobacillus.  More on this later, but you may want to consider cleansing your colon before supplementation with probiotics.

 Common Ailments: Cramping, Bloat, Hemorrhoids, Inflammation, Colitis, Diverticulitis, IBS, briefly

It’s only my intent to raise your awareness and get your attention, as each one of these issues requires an independent discussion.  I apologize if I get a little graphic.  These afflictions are all related in my opinion, because as I described earlier, they all stem from dry, hard, stools and infrequent BMs, (…and low-fiber and/or high-sat. fat diets, and sedentary lifestyle).  The longer waste remains in your colon, the more carcinogenic it can become especially waste from meat and the byproducts of saturated-fat digestion.  BTW, there is no ideal medical standard for how many BMs a person should have each day, because our eating habits vary so differently, but constipation is medically characterized by a decrease in frequency and/or passage of hard, dry stools; difficult defecation; sluggish action of the bowels.  Naturopathic and homeopathic doctors may feel that 2 to 3 BMs daily is more ideal, but it is virtually impossible to state how frequently the bowels should move in order to be classified as “normal”.

     Over time though, as your colon lining is in contact with impacted feces, it becomes inflamed.  Chronic inflammation is known as Colitis, (Crohn’s is linked to hereditary predisposition primarily).  Colitis progresses to ulcers.  Ulcers can abscess leading to fistulas and tears, furthering chance of widespread infection in the abdominal cavity.  Herniations and bulges can also form eventually creating pockets and sacs, a condition known as Diverticulitis.

     Hemorrhoids are by far the most common affliction, and many of us have or have had them and may not even know it, except for the occasional bit of blood seen in our stools, or a bump felt around the anus, or itching.  The primary cause of hemorrhoids is too much straining while trying to force a BM.  A hemorrhoid, basically defined, is an enlarged and dilated vein bulging or erupting from the tissue of the rectum or anus.  They may form exterior around the sphincter, or interior, and then may prolapse, or push out.  The blood from a hemorrhoid is bright red, as it is much oxygenated.  Usually, along with keeping the area clean and dry, and increasing your fiber, you can also take a stool softener to ease your BMs until it heals on its own.  Rarely is a medical procedure needed, but if it gets worse or does not heal, you may need additional treatment.  (Reoccurring blood in your stool could also be a symptom of a more significant problem, so it pays to glance in the toilet when you’re done.)  There are creams, ointments, and pads available as well, to ease pain and symptoms during healing.

     Cramping and bloating when not caused by an intestinal virus or other pathogen are typically the result of excess gas build up and/or partial blockage of the colon.  This is usually temporary as soon as the problematic obstruction moves along the colon, and the gas is passed or reabsorbed.  If you are ‘lactose-intolerant’, meaning you do not properly digest the sugar in milk known as lactose because you lack the enzyme lactase, you may also experience gas and cramps if you’ve consumed too much dairy.  Chronic gas, bloat, cramps, constipation, and diarrhea can also be collectively symptomatic of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, also known as ‘spastic colon’.  IBS has a broad category of symptoms associated with it, and is usually triggered by stress and anxiety.  The best treatment is managing stress, and increasing dietary fiber, but there are prescription meds available to help regulate colon spasms.  (Note:  Just because your wife tells you that you have gas a lot, does not mean you have IBS…In fact women are three times as likely to suffer from IBS as men!)

 Colon Cleansing and Maintenance

If you have regular, healthy BMs, and have no negative symptoms, should you do a colon cleanse?  And what do I mean by colon cleanse anyway?  Well first of all, if you’re over age 50, have reoccurring blood in your stool, chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, a family history of colon cancer or Crohn’s, then you need to talk to your doctor about a colonoscopy sooner rather than later.  A colonoscopy is step one for you, if any of the above criteria applies.  For the rest of us, we could all benefit from a colon cleanse at least once a year, especially if you find it difficult consistently eating adequate amounts of fiber, or have been prescribed antibiotics or corticosteroids over the course of the last year.  You may find this hard to believe, but many of us who consider ourselves to be healthy actually carry around literally pounds of impacted fecal matter stuck to the ridges and folds of our colon walls.  I have seen photos as have some of you of what can be emptied out of your colon during a thorough cleanse, up to 20 pounds or more of toxic, possibly carcinogenic waste – not an exaggeration!

     There are both invasive and noninvasive methods to cleanse your colon.  The most thorough and most invasive, is the hydro-colonic method, and this also carries the most risk.  A colonic procedure is performed by a professional hydro-therapist and costs about $60.00.  There are self/home colonic kits available, but I feel this procedure is too risky, as you could damage or even tear your colon lining, and even force toxins into your abdominal cavity.  You will speak with the therapist before hand and prepare your colon with cleansing herbs before the procedure, which involves two hoses inserted into your rectum, one with water flowing in and one to empty waste out, washing your colon walls squeaky clean, in a drug-fee, pain-free, and comfortable atmosphere.  Next of the invasive cleansing procedures is the enema, which can be safely performed at home.

     Most of us however, will prefer noninvasive methods to cleanse our colon, which can be done very effectively by combining herbs, clays, herbal laxatives, herbal teas, fasting, and further supplementation with probiotic bacteria – and this method carries very little risk if any.

**Note: You should be able to purchase a complete herbal colon cleansing kit for $50.00 or less.

Here is a list of a few of the common herbs and ingredients commonly used to naturally cleanse the colon along with a brief description:

1.       Psyllium Hulls – Soluble fiber that draws large quantities of water and volume into colon; feeds beneficial bacteria; gentle and nonabrasive.

2.       Senna Leaf – Herbal laxative, loosens bowels, stimulates peristalsis.

3.       Bentonite Clay – Absorbs toxins, and draws waste from colon walls.

4.       Cinnamon Bark

5.       Ginger Root – Combats parasites.

6.       Black Walnut – Combats parasites.

7.       Licorice Root

8.       Dandelion Root

9.       Barberry Root

10.    Bifodophilus, Acidophilus, Lactobacillus – Probiotic bacteria replenishment.

These herbs can be found in proprietary blends specifically for this purpose, in powder, capsule, or tea form.  The most convenient way to go if you don’t have a lot of time for research and preparation, is to purchase a cleansing kit from a naturopathic herbal company you trust, and this kit will come complete with all the herbs and instructions too.  Some length of fasting is usually part of the cleansing process, as a pure water-fast is one of the best methods to allow the body to cleanse itself and give the colon a break.  A water-only fast can be harsh, so usually fresh juice and herbal tea is incorporated to ease hunger pains, eating withdrawals, detox symptoms, and blood-sugar lows.  After cleansing is complete, probiotic supplements are taken to reestablish healthy bacteria.  A complete cleansing kit will come with probiotic supplements as well.

     Do what you can or are comfortable with, as some effort is better than nothing.  A 3 day fast and cleanse may not be a realistic option for your on-the-go lifestyle, but even if all you can do is eat more fiber and drink more water, and some ‘Detox’ tea, you’re certainly helping yourself out.  If you do proceed with a colon cleansing, one added vanity benefit you’ll surely appreciate is a flatter, non-distended abdomen!

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