Your bathroom habits are your private business, but trouble with the go can signal big health trouble. It’s not always easy to tell if something is a sign of a serious problem with your colon. Many minor gastrointestinal ailments clear up independently in a day or two, but ongoing issues indicate a need for medical attention.
Fortunately, taking quick action often brings relief. How can you tell if your colon is healthy? Here are signs of an unhealthy colon you should know about and tips for improving your gastrointestinal wellness.
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Signs That You Have an Unhealthy Colon
You might be one of the millions of Americans who dismiss occasional gastrointestinal upset — and for good reason. It’s often impossible to differentiate between a sign of serious trouble and merely eating something that disagrees with you. That’s one reason why the American Cancer Society recently introduced new guidelines, lowering the recommended screening age from 50 to 45. Early detection can lead to a cure, but only if you know what to look for.
Signs of an unhealthy colon include the following symptoms, which warrant a follow-up with your doctor.
1. Frequent Gastrointestinal Upset
One way to tell if your colon is healthy is to ask yourself how often you experience the following symptoms:
The problem is your basis of comparison. For example, most people pass gas roughly 6-20 times a day — but that’s a pretty wide gap. One person might interpret gassiness on the higher end of the scale concerning, while another sees it as par for the course. That’s another reason screening is critical.
Fatigue is a bit of a bugbear because it shows up as a symptom of multiple diseases. However, your digestive tract manufactures energy from the foods you eat. Malabsorption can lead to a nutrient deficiency, creating a ripple effect of health issues that further tap your fuel reserves.
Also Read: Why Does Cystitis Come?
Could the answer to your head pain lie in your gut? It might. Your vagus nerve sends signals from your intestines to your brain that affect the release of various hormones and neurotransmitters that can precipitate a migraine attack. When your colon is unhealthy, it’s more prone to send mixed messages that lead to more frequent wire-crossings — and pain.
4. Unintentional Weight Gain or Loss
If your colon is unhealthy, malabsorption issues can spur cravings that compel you to overeat and gain weight. Conversely, you might not get much from the food you do consume and eventually lose interest and appetite, leading to weight loss.
5. Extreme Food Cravings
When your body becomes deficient in certain nutrients, it wants to replace what it’s missing. As a result, you could experience extreme cravings, including for unusual substances. Additionally, colon inflammation elevates ghrelin levels — a hormone associated with hedonic eating, or the consuming food associated with pleasure, not energy needs.
6. Skin Disorders
What does your gut have to do with your skin? Like any other organ in your body, your biggest organ, your skin, requires nutrients to thrive. If your colon is healthy, you absorb the necessary vitamins and minerals to maintain suppleness and elasticity. When you have an unhealthy colon, you can see premature skin aging, acne, rashes and dryness.
7. Autoimmune Issues
Autoimmune issues can indicate an unhealthy colon. For example, ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the large intestine, while Crohn’s can cause ulcers anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, although it’s most common in the small intestine. The wrong diet can aggravate symptoms of either disorder, although it doesn’t create the disease.
8. Wide or Rapid Mood Swings
You might first notice your colon is unhealthy when you begin struggling with anxiety and depression. What does your mood have to do with your gut?
Your intestines produce 95% of your body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in several mental disorders. For example, people with depression often sleep too much without feeling rested, and their symptoms are often related to an imbalance in the brain. Pay attention if you struggle to get out of bed and can’t identify why.
How Can You Tell If Your Colon Is Healthy?
You can tell your colon is healthy when you have no systems and maintain optimal energy levels — in short, you feel good. Another telltale sign? You have a regular bowel movement most days of the week.
How Often Should You Poop?
According to one study, adults in the U.S. go anywhere between three times a day and three times a week. The consistency should be soft and easy to pass but not watery like diarrhea or overly hard and firm, causing you to strain. Pay attention to what’s normal so that you can observe variations in your patterns.
Tips for Improving Your Colon Health
If you can’t tell if your colon is healthy, how can you improve it? The following five tips can help.
Probiotics refer to the living organisms that make up your intestinal microbiome. These tiny workhorses do much of your digestion work, and you’re born with a healthy stash. However, they deplete over time from poor diet, antibiotic and alcohol use.
Taking probiotics treats both diarrhea and constipation — one study showed it reduced watery stools caused by antibiotic use by 42%. You can find these microorganisms in the following foods:
- Fermented foods
Fiber feeds the probiotic bacteria in your gut — that’s one reason it’s so healthy for your colon. Additionally, it draws water into your intestine, helping to soften your stools and make the go easier. You can find fiber in whole, unrefined grains like whole wheat, rye, oat, quinoa and fresh fruits and vegetables like apples.
3. Elimination Diet
Multiple things can lead to an unhealthy colon, depending on your underlying health conditions. For example, many people have undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities. For example, celiac disease causes an extreme immune system response to the wheat protein, similar to an allergy but can cause lasting damage.
Mindfulness and an elimination diet are your best tools. Follow these steps:
- Pay attention to when you develop symptoms. Write down everything you can remember eating in the preceding 24 to 48 hours. Keep notes over several weeks.
- Look for patterns and identify potentially problematic foods. It’s equally important to note which ones are safe. What foods don’t produce symptoms?
- Based on your patterns, eliminate suspect foods from your diet for at least two weeks, consuming only those on your “safe” list.
- Gradually begin adding more foods, noting which ones cause symptoms and reducing or eliminating those from your diet.
4. Reduce Red Meat Consumption
The WHO has identified processed meat as a carcinogen and red meat as a probable one implicated in the development of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, a recent study identified processed meat and refined carbs linked to 70% of Type 2 diabetes cases worldwide. Perhaps it’s time to rethink that traditional ham sandwich on bleached flour bread for lunch?
5. Reduce Refined Grain and Sugar Consumption
You know refined grains increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes. While refined grains are not directly associated with increased colorectal cancer cases, consuming more whole grains lowers your risk — so toss the white bread and opt for brands that don’t strip away the nutrient-rich bran and chaff.
Know If You Have a Healthy Colon
It’s not as easy as it seems to know if you have a healthy colon. Most people occasionally experience gastrointestinal upset. However, ongoing symptoms require a doctor’s visit, as they can indicate an underlying problem.
Be alert for the signs of an unhealthy colon, and take the steps above to improve your colon health. You’ll extend your life and feel better every day.