The colon is part of the large intestine, which is part of the digestive tract. After food has been broken down in the stomach and absorbed in the small intestine, indigestible food matter is passed through the colon. The colon is responsible for absorbing any leftover water, salts, and vitamins from food matter and condensing it into fecal matter. The fecal matter is then passed from the sigmoid colon into the rectum, where it’s held before being excreted as waste.
Symptoms of colon disorders typically include:
The colon is prone to inflammation and inflammatory disorders that can be triggered by:
When your colon is healthy, it will efficiently remove the waste your body no longer needs. However, when your colon is unhealthy, it can result in a variety of painful problems. The most common disorders of the colon are inflammatory bowel diseases such as:
- ulcerative colitis, which causes pain in the sigmoid colon—the final part of the large intestine that leads to the rectum.
- Crohn’s disease, which typically causes pain around the belly button or on the lower right side of the abdomen
- diverticulitis, which causes sigmoid colon pain
- irritable bowel syndrome, which most frequently causes pain in the lower left abdomen
- colorectal cancer, which rarely causes abdominal pain
Inflammatory bowel diseases are triggered or aggravated by a poor diet. In fact, the Colon Cancer Foundation estimates that up to 75 percent of the risk for colorectal cancer — the third most deadly form of cancer in the United States — can be prevented through lifestyle changes such as healthy eating.
Reduce your intake of certain foods
The first step in treating colon pain is to modify your diet to see if you can reduce inflammation and find relief. Certain foods contribute more to inflammation, including:
Adjust your lifestyle
The second step in treating colon pain is to make other lifestyle changes, eliminating behaviors that adversely affect colon health, such as:
- cigarette smoking
- excessive sitting/sedentary work environment
- lack of exercise
The third step is to review medications you take. If possible, stop using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen which can increase inflammation and affect the intestinal lining. Your doctor can recommend alternatives.
Eat more fiber
Dietary fiber speeds up the process of waste elimination, helping to cut down on constipation and inflammation. Without enough roughage to keep the bowel moving, stools can become hard and painful. With enough fiber, your colon reduces the strain and pressure it exerts on the abdomen and veins, reducing the risk of:
Some healthy sources of dietary fiber to consider introducing to your diet are:
- nuts and seeds
Drink more water
Dehydration can contribute to hard, painful stools and slow, blocked bowel movements. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommend drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day to maintain proper hydration.
Get more exercise
A high-stress or sedentary lifestyle can aggravate the colon, so it’s important to find ways to relax and take time to let your body get the exercise it needs to stay functioning properly. A Harvard study found that regular exercise can reduce the risk of diverticulitis in men by up to 37 percent.
In extreme cases, surgery is an option for relieving colon pain.
Remember that anything you eat has an impact on your body. Eating the typical western diet rich in fats and sugar and low in fiber adds to inflammation, constipation, and pain that can trigger uncomfortable bowel diseases. Drinking plenty of water, eating fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and processed foods can help improve symptoms if you are currently experiencing pain.
According to the CDC, regular screening, beginning at age 50, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. So, if you are 50 years old or older, talk to your doctor about getting screened for colon cancer. Most colorectal cancers are curable, provided they are discovered early and treated immediately.