3 facts you might not know about your colon
Your colon does amazing things and is extremely important to the body, yet it often doesn’t get much attention. Gastroenterologist William Perkins Jr., MD, explained what makes your colon pretty incredible and why it’s important to get it screened.
Here are some quick facts about your colon and what it can do.
- Your colon is long. Also known as the large intestine, your colon is about 5 feet long and 3 inches in diameter.
- Your colon has an important job. It absorbs about 1 liter of fluid per day and helps regulate electrolytes. If you get dehydrated, the colon can increase its absorption of fluids fivefold if needed. It contains pacemaker cells that create rhythmic electrical activity, which facilitates the mixing process and propulsion of contents.
- Your colon includes a gut microbiome. The colon contains the highest density of microbes ever recorded on Earth, about 100 trillion microorganisms, mostly bacteria. This collection of organisms is called the gut microbiome, and researchers today have seen a possible connection with the gut microbiome and chemicals in the brain that regulate mood. The gut microbiome also may play an important role in your body’s ability to maintain normal weight, and it plays a crucial role in many other diseases and treatments. Sometimes, we may even transplant a healthy person’s microbiome to someone with an infection in a procedure called a fecal transplant.
Why is it important to get a colon screening?
The cells in the lining of your colon have a very short life, only about five days. These cells, known as enterocytes, are constantly renewing themselves in an orderly fashion. Sometimes, however, the genetic information (DNA) in these cells can mutate and become abnormal, which can lead to uncontrolled cellular growth. People can have genetic mutations that were passed down to them through their parents and can also accumulate mutations throughout life when exposed to carcinogens.
When enough mutations accumulate and an abnormal growth cycle starts, it results in the development of a polyp inside the colon. If the polyp continues to grow, it can turn into cancer. Fortunately, colon polyps usually grow slowly, which gives doctors an opportunity to remove the growths before turning into cancer. This is why having a colonoscopy is the most effective way to prevent colon cancer.
“Colon cancer screening and evaluation of worrisome symptoms should not be put off,” said Dr. Perkins. “If you think you are having problems with your colon, talk to your doctor without delay. A screening is one of the best things you can do to keep you, and your amazing colon, healthy.”
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