The large intestine is an important organ involved in digestion. For good overall health, we need our entire digestive tract, including the large intestine, to be functioning optimally.
Here’s everything you need to know about the large intestine, signs of large intestine issues, and how to keep your large intestine healthy.
Large intestine structure
The large intestine is part of the digestive tract, located between the small intestine and the anus. It includes the colon, rectum, and anal canal. However, sometimes the word “colon” is used to describe the entire large intestine.1
The large intestine is a long, hollow tube about 5 or 6 feet in length that runs around the edges of your abdominal cavity. It’s length is about one-fifth of the total length of the entire digestive tract. It is made up of layers of muscles, tissues, and mucosal lining, allowing the organ to perform functions like contracting, secreting, and absorbing.1 2
Large intestine function
The large intestine receives food from the small intestine, where it has been digested into liquid form. At this point, most of the nutrients have already been absorbed out of the food. The large intestine is the site of the final phases of digestion, right before waste is excreted from the body.
The large intestine is responsible for processing any leftover indigestible material from your food, absorbing water and electrolytes, and changing the liquid waste that has been moving through the digestive tract into stool that can be eliminated from the body.
While the large intestine is absorbing water, forming stool, and moving that stool out through the anus, bacteria living in the colon also feed on the waste as it is processed. This helps to break it down further while also producing important vitamins through the process of fermentation. The friendly bacteria in the colon produce things like vitamin K and B vitamins, which are then absorbed into the body where they perform vital functions.1 2 3
Common large intestine issues
There are many different symptoms and disorders that can occur when the large intestine is not working properly.
Some common problems related to the large intestine include:
- Diarrhea can occur when food moves too quickly through the digestive tract. When this happens, the large intestine doesn’t have time to absorb enough water, resulting in loose, watery stool.
- When food is moving too slowly through the digestive tract and the large intestine, it can become hard to pass regular bowel movements.
- Also known as IBS, irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that affects the large intestine. It involves irregular muscle contractions in the large intestine which can lead to diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain.
- When muscles in the colon wall weaken (usually with age), it can form pockets in the mucosal lining of the large intestine. This is called diverticulosis. If these pockets cause inflammation or result in symptoms, it is called diverticular disease or diverticulitis. One out of every ten Americans over age 40 has diverticular disease.
- Inflammatory bowel disease includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions involve inflammation in the digestive tract, likely caused by an abnormal immune response in the body. People with inflammatory bowel disease get troublesome digestive symptoms like pain, diarrhea, gas, appetite changes, and more. About 3 million people in the US have irritable bowel disease.
- Pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, C. Difficile, and other types of bacteria can invade the large intestine and cause infection and inflammation.
- Cancer of the colon, or colorectal cancer, is the second most common form of cancer in the US, affecting 130,000 people each year. It is a highly curable form of cancer that can be detected and treated long before symptoms appear with proper screening.1 2 4
Symptoms of large intestine problems
Any symptoms involving digestion and the making and passing of stool may indicate a problem in the large intestine. If you have any of the symptoms listed below, consult with a healthcare practitioner to determine if you have any issues in your large intestine or other parts of your digestive tract that may need support.
- Changes in bowel movement habits
- Changes in stool (such as in color or consistency)
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
- Food intolerances
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the large intestine is energetically connected to several vertebrae and teeth:
- Cervical vertebrae 1 and 5 (C1, C5)
- Thoracic vertebrae 10, 11, and 12 (T10-T12)
- All lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5)
- The coccyx (CYX)
- The first and second upper pre-molars (T4, T5, T12, T13)
- The first and second lower molars (T18, T19, T30, T31)
Not surprisingly, it’s also energetically connected to the large intestine meridian and the colon. A problem with any of these teeth, vertebrae, or other connected areas may cause an issue with the large intestine. The opposite is also true: an issue with the large intestine may manifest as discomfort or pain in these areas.
Additionally, the large intestine also has an energetic connection with the emotion of anxiety. Scientific research backs up this connection too. For example, studies show that anxiety disorders and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often affect the same people.5
How diet impacts large intestine health
The foods we put into our bodies can either help or harm our digestive tract. Some foods are digested easily and nourish the gut, while others can put stress on the system and result in discomfort and symptoms.
That’s why one of the best things you can do to take care of your large intestine health is to eat a nourishing diet full of healthy foods.
Here are some of the best dietary changes you can make to support large intestine health:
- Eat more fiber. Fiber is one of the best foods for large intestine health, but most people don’t eat nearly enough of it. Pack your daily diet full of fruits and veggies that have high amounts of fiber.
- Choose healthy fats. The less healthy fats, like saturated fats, can be associated with diseases of the digestive tract, whereas the healthier fats like omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and promote beneficial gut bacteria. Choose healthy forms of fats such as avocados, fish, and olive oil.
- Try probiotic-rich foods. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods add beneficial bacteria to the gut, which can aid in digestion and support overall health.
- Avoid highly processed foods and refined sugar. The Western diet is associated with gut issues, weight gain, and other concerns. Opt for whole, plant-based foods as much as possible and avoid as much refined food as you can.
- Consider food intolerances. If you have bothersome digestive symptoms, there’s a chance that you may be intolerant to certain foods. Work with a nutritionist or other healthcare provider to determine if you may be reacting to specific foods in your diet. Removing these foods from your diet may help to relieve some of your symptoms.2 6
How lifestyle impacts large intestine health
A healthy diet is a vital part of maintaining a healthy large intestine. But other lifestyle choices matter, too.
The way you take care of your whole body through daily habits impacts your digestion and the function of all your inner organs—including your large intestine.1
Here are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps with cleansing, lubrication, and absorption throughout the entire digestive tract. Staying well hydrated can help food move easily through your large intestine and keep things flowing smoothly.1 2
- Manage stress and take care of your mental health. The science of the gut-brain connection tells us that the state of our mind can affect the state of our gut, and vice versa. When we are stressed or experiencing things like anxiety or depression, it can actually trigger or worsen intestinal distress. Learning strategies to help you better manage stressors in your life and relax your mind and body can go a long way in helping to relieve symptoms and get you feeling better than ever.7
- Move your body regularly. Being physically active is very important for intestinal health. It’s even been shown to help increase the diversity of healthy bacteria in your digestive system.8
- Maintain a healthy weight. Research has shown links between obesity and intestinal disorders, including colon cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight through mindful lifestyle choices like eating well, exercising regularly, and managing stress can all support a healthy large intestine.6
Supplements and herbs for large intestine health
There are various supplements and herbal medicines that are commonly used to support intestinal health. Here are a few of the options you may consider:
- Probiotics are the healthy kind of bacteria that are good for your gut and that help aid in digestion. Probiotic supplements can help to boost the body’s natural microbial population, and they are sometimes used to treat specific intestinal disorders and improve general digestive health. Work with a practitioner who can help you decide what kind and what dose might be right for you.1
- Licorice root is a medicinal plant that has a long history of use for digestive complaints. It provides a protective covering over the intestinal lining and can help soothe irritation and alleviate discomfort.9
- Slippery elm is believed to help heal mucous membranes in the gut, and some research shows it may help with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.9
- Vitamin D is great for overall health, and its benefits extend to boosting digestive health, too! It has even been suggested to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.10
- Psyllium husk is a natural source of fiber that you can choose to supplement with if you are having trouble getting enough fiber into your diet.
- Peppermint may bring relief for symptoms like constipation and diarrhea. This herb is thought to have a relaxing effect on the muscles in the intestines, and it also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It has been shown to be helpful in disorders of the large intestine such as irritable bowel syndrome.11
- Ginger is commonly used as a natural remedy for digestive symptoms like upset stomach, nausea, bloating, and gas. Research also suggests that it may play a role in protecting against colon cancer.12
As with any supplements, always consult with your healthcare practitioner before beginning any supplements or herbs.
Large Intestine Virtual Item stressor
A digital signature representing the large intestine is scanned in the ZYTO Balance Biosurvey. It can also be scanned in various Select and Elite biosurveys. If the body had an out-of-range response to this item, it will show up in the Balance Wellness Report and the Biomarker Progress Chart in the Advanced Report. You can also see how the body responded to this item, whether in range or not, by looking at the All Stressors by Category report.
- TCM – Large Intestine Meridian (also scanned in the Balance)
- EAV Large Intestine Meridian
- Large Intestine Mu
- Large Intestine Shu
- Large Intestine: Stuck
Large Intestine Virtual Item balancers
After the Large Intestine Virtual Item is scanned along with other stressors, a balancer Virtual Item scan is typically run, followed by a rescan to see which items bring the out-of-range stressor Virtual Items back into range. If the Large Intestine is out of range, you can see specifically which Virtual Item brought it back into balance in the Biomarker Progress Chart.
As the large intestine also has a connection to anxiety, using the EVOX can also be helpful in addressing this emotion. An individual may find that resolving their anxiety issues improves bowel function.
About Chelsea Clark
Chelsea Clark is a writer and certified health and wellness coach who is passionate about supporting others along their own health journeys. She enjoys helping people make positive, lasting changes so that they can live the happiest, healthiest life possible.
1. Azzouz, L.L., & S. Sharma. “Physiology, Large Intestine.” In: StatPearls [Internet]. (Treasure Island, FL: Stat Pearls Publishing, 2022)
2. “Large Intestine (Colon).” Cleveland Clinic. My.Clevelandclinic.org.
3. “Your Digestive System & How it Works.” National Institutes of Health. Niddk.nih.gov.
4. “Gastrointestinal Diseases.” Cleveland Clinic. My.Cleveleandclinic.org.
5. Giordano, Christine. “Anxiety and IBS: What’s the Connection?” GoodRx, Inc. Goodrx.com.
6. “Eating for Colon Health.” Northwestern Medicine. Nm.org.
7. “The gut-brain connection.” The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Health.harvard.edu.
8. Monda, V., I. Villano, et al. “Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity (2017): 3831972.
9. Berger, Mary. “What Is so Amazing About Using Herbs to Promote Gut Health?” Maryland University of Integrative Health. Muih.edu.
10. Kim, H., M. Lipsyc-Sharf, et al. “Total Vitamin D Intake and Risks of Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer and Precursors.” Gastroenterology161, no. 4 (2021): 1208–1217.e9.
11. Alammar, N., L. Wang, B. Saberi, et al. “The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 19, no. 1 (2019): 21.
12. Nikkhah Bodagh, M., I. Maleki, & A. Hekmatdoost. “Ginger in gastrointestinal disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials.” Food Science & Nutrition 7, no. 1 (2018): 96–108