Constipation and the Colon



By Dr. Julia Lizy, MBBS (KEMU)

Constipation and the Colon


Constipation is usually caused by the slow movement of stool through the colon.

As long as stool remains in the colon, the colon will continue to do its job of absorbing water from it. Therefore, when stool spends too much time in the colon it becomes dry and hard.

Dry, hard stool is more difficult to pass than moist, soft, slippery stool.

How Constipation Harms the Colon


Excessive stool harms the colon

Our colons were intended to hold 3 to 6 pounds of feces.

Someone with chronic constipation may build up as much as 20 pounds of stool in their colon. This type of bulk stretches out and enlarges the colon and harms the rectum and anus when this stool is passed.

The stool irritates the inner mucosa layer of the colon. For the elderly, the mucosa layer thins out and may even be stripped from the colon as large, abrasive stool passes through.

Without the mucosa, polyps and lesions appear, later developing into colon cancer.

Healthy gut flora disappears

Constipation and the Colon - continued

This toxic laden mass of stool in the colon ferments and rots.

The normal healthy flora of bacteria disappears as yeasts and other less desirable microbes take their place. This is bad for the colon.

Healthy gut flora have numerous functions. One of these functions is to protect the colon from pathogens that cause inflammation.

Another is that the content of normal stool is around 50% bacteria. These bacteria are like a sponge that keeps stool moist and soft, protecting the colon.

How the 3 Types of Constipation Affect the Colon


People experience constipation in different ways. The 3 types of constipation are:

  1. Acute constipation.

  2. Chronic constipation

  3. Pseudo obstruction

1. Acute constipation

Constipation and the Colon - continued


This type of constipation is a temporary problem that appears, then vanishes.

The colon is a sensitive organ. It reacts to external influences by either slowing or stopping its peristaltic motion, used to move stool through the colon.

Examples of external influences are:

  • A change in life style

  • A change in medications

  • A hormonal imbalance


When body the body suffers from acute constipation, it will adjust to external influences and return back to its normal rhythm in a few days.

Sometimes a laxative may be needed to help the body get back on track.

2. Chronic constipation

This is constipation that doesn’t want to stop, but goes on for months or years.

With chronic constipation the colon is not able to fully perform its function of digestion and elimination. There are a number of things that may cause this malfunctioning.

The best way to solve this type of constipation is with lifestyle changes.

3. Pseudo obstruction problem

Constipation and the Colon - continued


This is a problem where a person is worried that they have constipation when in fact they don’t.

Perhaps once in a while he goes a day without a bowel movement. Maybe he feels a fullness or bloating sensation that is due to poor gut flora, but blames it on constipation.

Perhaps it is because they have gone on a diet and aren’t consuming enough food for daily bowel movements. After all, even a healthy person can have as little as 3 bowel movements a week.

It would be wise for this person to learn the symptoms of constipation to help relieve their mind.

Understanding What is Happening Inside

constipation and the colon

Colonic inertia is a condition where the colon contracts poorly and retains stool.

There are numerous things that may cause this. Common ones are taking excessive calcium, and nerve damage that may be caused by diabetes.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is a sensation of incomplete emptying of the rectum, a feeling that the bowel needs to be emptied several times.

The tendency for pelvic floor dysfunction is for pelvic floor muscles to contract, not relax. Physical or emotional trauma may contribute to the problem.

Is Magnesium the Answer?

Constipation and the Colon - a solution

Magnesium is one of the major minerals in the body, and is needed for many bodily functions.

One of these functions is to help the colon and other muscles operate properly. Sadly, 80% of Americans no longer get enough magnesium in their diet.

A daily magnesium supplement may be taken to meet this need. Not only can it help to restore proper bowel movements, but it may have other health benefits too.
   
The laxative effect of magnesium occurs through two mechanisms:

  • Magnesium relaxes the muscles in the intestines. This function helps to smooth out the rhythm of the bowel.

  • Magnesium pulls water into the colon, keeping stool moist, soft and slippery.

Magnesium can help to eliminate constipation. Taking too much can lead to diarrhea.

People with low kidney function should avoid excessive magnesium, since diseased kidneys are not able to remove excessive magnesium from the blood stream, resulting in magnesium toxicity.

In 2006 a study was conducted to examine the relationship between constipation, fiber, and magnesium intake.

In this study, constipation was not found to be associated with low fiber intake. Rather, it was found to be associated with the low intake of magnesium and a low intake of water from food.

In fact, a deficiency of magnesium is itself one of the main factors behind constipation. Foods like nuts, coffee, chocolate, beans and leafy greens are rich in magnesium.

Magnesium and constipation and the colon

  • Magnesium plays a crucial role in the body’s ability to release energy

  • It is needed to help maintain proper nerve function of the bowel

  • It is vital for food metabolism and digestion

  • It increases water in the intestines, thus bulking up stool, which helps to start peristalsis

  • It relaxes body skeletal muscles as well as the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal track

  • A study recently published has shown that 50 mg per day increase in intake of magnesium reduce the risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer is the cancer of large intestine.


(Return from Constipation and the Colon to Dangers of Constipation)

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