How to Keep Your Large Intestine Healthy

The large intestine, commonly known as the colon, is a critical component of the digestive system. It's most responsible for absorbing water from indigestible food matter and passing waste material from the body. A number of diseases can affect colon health, such as polyps, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer. Fewer than 10 percent of colon cancers are hereditary, according to Rush University Health Center. This underscores the importance of diet and lifestyle for colon health.

Two women are chopping vegetables. (Image: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Eat Less Red Meat

A diet high in red meat increases colon cancer risk, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, although exactly how remains unknown. Data suggests a link to cancer-causing substances known as N-nitroso compounds, according to a study in the November 2012 issue of "The Journal of Nutrition." In the study, researchers measured the N-nitroso compound content of fecal matter after participants ate either white meat or red meat. The study found red meat, but not white meat, left cancer-causing compounds, and the amount depended on how much red meat the participants ate.

Increase Fiber Intake

Eating a high-fiber diet is central to overall colon health. Fiber moves food along the digestive tract, decreasing transit time, and bulks up stool. In addition, fiber helps prevent your colon from absorbing cancer-causing substances as they move through the digestive tract. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain rich amounts of fiber. Men should get 38 grams and women 25 grams of fiber per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. Men over 50 need 30 grams and women over 50 need 21 grams.

Get Fishy

Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of chronic diseases and are essential to good health. These fatty acids, which are found in fish, are perhaps most well-known for their heart-health benefits; however, eating a diet rich in fish appears to significantly reduce colon cancer risk, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, which is beneficial to colon health since inflammation is a major characteristic of colon disorders. Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends eating fish up to three times per week for the health of your colon.

Control Your Weight

Being overweight has a negative effect on many aspects of your health. Obesity in particular appears to increase the risk of colon cancer, according to Rush University Medical Center. Carrying excess weight promotes hormone imbalance. Insulin, a hormone that regulates glucose, is commonly elevated in overweight individuals. This is crucial since excess insulin may promote tumor development in the colon, according to Rush. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are central to weight control.

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