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The Large Intestine and Guilt

Belly illustration with arrow

The allopathic view of the large intestine

The colon is about 5 feet long and is the terminal part of the intestinal tube or alimentary canal. Whilst the upper parts of the small intestine are devoted to producing enzymes that breakdown the foods we eat, the latter parts are dedicated to absorbing the nutrients produced.

The small intestine gives into the large intestine down by the right hip with the ascending colon passing up the right of the torso, the transverse colon passing across the abdomen under the ribs and the descending colon passing down the left of the abdominal cavity. The descending colon opens into the rectum where the stool is temporarily stored until it is convenient to defecate and the anus through which the waste is excreted.

The primary role of the large intestine is to absorb water from the liquid chyme converting it into solid faeces ready for excretion. In fact, approximately 1.4 litres (2.5 pints) of water is recovered in this way every day. Billions of bacteria within the colon also perform the important function of synthesising the vitamins K and B, as well as producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide and methane gases as a by product of fermentation. The lining of the colon secretes mucous to lubricate the intestine, to package the toxic stool and to ease the passage of faeces. 

The region where the ascending colon turns to become the transverse colon is a simple 90 degree turn known as the hepatic flexure because it is next to the liver. The portion where the ascending colon then turns into the descending colon is known as the splenic flexure because it is near to the spleen. This flexure is more complex and turns in two different planes through 90 degrees. This flexure can trap waste gases and solid material and can also act as a source of pain which will be felt under the ribs on the left hand side of the abdomen.

A variety of different kinds of muscular movements in the wall of the colon propel faeces along towards the rectum. These types of movement include haustral churning where the colon segments into pockets and turns the contents over; peristaltic contractions whereby segments form that move the contents along and mass movements which are wave-like contractions that move the contents of the large intestine around en masse ready for expulsion. Mass movements often occur in response to eating as part of the gastrocolic (linked stomach-colon) reflex.

The last portion of the large intestine is the rectum and this is normally empty except just before and during defecation. Below the rectum lies the anus which is about 4 cm long and lined with vertical ridges called columns. In the wall of the anal canal are two strong rings of muscle called the internal and external sphincters which act like valves and relax during defecation. The external sphincter is under conscious control and the internal sphincter relaxes in response. With age and toxicity these sphincters may malfunction so that very elderly or sick people are often incontinent. 


Disorders of the large intestine

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract including the colon. 

Colon polyps although typically non-cancerous can occasionally develop into colon cancer.

Diverticulitis occurs when the contents of the colon collect in pouches or diverticulae and this can lead to pain. 

Parasitic infections including roundworms and tape worms can be harboured in the cavity formed within the intestine whilst feeding on the nutrients supplied. Symptoms include an itchy anus, especially at night and erratic bowel habits. 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a basket term given to disorders of the colon in which there may be alternating diarrhoea and constipation, spasms, pain and flatulence. This may be due to food intolerances, a deficiency of digestive enzymes, a ‘leaky gut’ primarily caused by the yeast, Candida albicans, parasites or historic emotional issues.  

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease in which ulcers form in the colon lining.


The naturopathic view of the colon 

In naturopathic terms, health is thought to begin and end with the healthy function of the large intestine or colon. The toxic load that a poorly functioning bowel places upon the liver is probably key to all chronic ailments and true recovery necessarily involves tackling this aspect first. According to the dictates of iridology, any build-up in the transverse colon leads to the toxins travelling upwards to the brain.

Very few people have healthy bowels even though they may imagine that they do if they don't suffer from overt pain or problems. However, most people carry several pounds of waste matter in accretions around their colon only some of this is expelled every day - like squeezing toothpaste from a tube. 

In addition, the natural health world also differs with allopathic opinion on some of the following essential points:

The ileocaecal valve This is a muscular sphincter that guards the junction between the small and large intestines. This sphincter allows the periodic passage of chyme but prevents back flow of toxic waste from the large intestine into the small intestine where it would be absorbed. This valve can frequently malfunction leading to pain and if stuck closed can cause constipation and if stuck open can lead to toxic back flow which slowly poisons the system. Sometimes the ileocaecal valve (ICV) can open and close, but not in a synchronous way. This pain of a malfunctioning ICV can be very sharp and sometimes persistent and may be mistaken for appendicitis.

The allopathic world either does not recognise the existence of this valve or regards it as being unimportant, whereas the naturopathic world says that diagnosing and treating a malfunctioning ICV is crucial to establishing health. And also that this valve often acts as a 'fuse' for an overloaded system and frequently becomes dysfunctional in order to preserve more vital bodily functions. 

The houston valve is another muscular sphincter which is intended to support the weight of the stool and if this valve is not functioning correctly this too can cause pain on the left hand side of the body between the hip crest and navel or may lead to the urgent need to defecate. Malfunction of both ICV and houston valves can be fixed (at least temporarily) by applying firm and deep pressure to the area. This can be done by a therapist, a partner or even by yourself.

The appendix This is a small worm-shaped outgrowth of the large intestine just below where the small intestine enters. Whilst the allopathic world regards the appendix as serving no important function and as therefore being dispensable, the naturopathic world regards it as serving important functions primarily as part of the immune and lymphatic systems. It is thought to act as a reservoir of friendly bacteria to reseed the colon after diarrhoea and also to monitor and 'sterilise' the chyme as it empties from the small to the large intestine preventing parasitic infections establishing. 

The body hologram Like all other parts of the body, the colon is thought to act as a hologram with each part being related to other body parts. This means that hearing problems, for example, are related to a specific part of the ascending colon. It also means that as historic emotional issues are resolved, there may be an associated release of faecal matter after which the colon may start to function more effectively. Conversely, if toxic wastes are removed from these areas using colonic hydrotherapy or a cleanse there may be an emotional release and an improvement in the related condition may follow. 


The Traditional Chinese Medicine view of the large intestine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the yang (male) large intestine is paired with the yin (female) lungs - both organs of excretion. And both are classified as metal elements which are affected by sadness and worry. The large intestine is associated with muscular strength and vitality and is regarded as working with the lymphatic system to clear metabolic by-products from the muscles, thereby preventing muscular aches and fatigue.

Excessive consumption of cold and raw foods can cause internal cold leading to diarrhoea and loose stools, whereas excessive amounts of greasy or hot foods can cause internal damp heat leading to foul, urgent and /or loose stools with burning. 


Emotional associations: Guilt and regret

The large intestine is primarily associated with the emotions of guilt, regret and of failing to let go. 

Guilt may be experienced as a result of an individual believing that they are wholly or partially responsible for violating a moral code. The emotion may be the result of something that the individual did or failed to do and is closely related to the concept of regret. The feeling of guilt can be very persistent and may be driven by conscience and often occurs in people suffering with anxiety and/or depression. 

Sigmund Freud felt that guilt was the result of a struggle between the ego (the 'selfish' self) and the superego which carries all the parental and societal norms. Whilst Freud did not agree that guilt had its origins with a punishing 'god', he did think that some people may be responsible for unconsciously attracting the situations about which they subsequently felt guilty.  

The evolutionary explanation is that by feeling guilty after harming another or failing to reciprocate a kindness, the cohesiveness of the tribe or group is maintained. Guilt often also prompts us to demonstrate regret or sorrow and this can make reconciliation and forgiveness by those we perceive we have harmed possible. It also means that the offending individual is less likely to be on the receiving end of possibly violent retaliatory action and is therefore more likely to survive. However, the more cooperative the group, the more the individuals involved may be prone to feelings of guilt, regret, anxiety and depression. 

There is also the collective guilt experienced by a whole group or people that have harmed another group or people such as that felt by the Germans after the Second World War. Individuals tend to want to avoid this collective guilt by refusing to identify with the group that caused the harm, denying the harm done or justifying their actions in order to maintain a positive self-image, but some may be prompted to engage in acts of reconciliation with those that the group has harmed. 

When we see others suffering or carrying out an action we empathise through a system of ‘mirror neurons’. This empathy prompts us into thinking that we should do something to relieve the suffering of others and may explain the fact that man can be fairly altruistic. If we cannot help, or fail to help another who is suffering, we experience feelings of guilt.

Individuals who completely lack the ability to empathise with others or to feel guilt or regret for the harm they have inflicted are referred to as psychopaths or sociopaths. Such people rationalise their behaviour, blame others or use denial. Early life empathic care is thought to be extremely important to proper emotional development and such individuals may have lacked this critical developmental process. Certainly the vast majority of criminals are found to have organic brain damage possibly sustained during early life neglect or abuse. 

In addition to being punished for your actions, being forgiven, making amends or expressing sincere remorse may alleviate feelings of guilt and regret. Intellectualising the feeling or understanding that the source of the feeling is illogical or irrelevant may also resolve these persistent feelings.


The large intestine meridian

The large intestine meridian starts on tip of first finger, runs up the outside of the arm and elbow, over the top of the shoulder, up either side of the neck and jaw and terminates next the nostrils. Symptoms experienced along the meridian may indicate an underlying problem with the large intestine.

The large intestine meridian is partnered with the lung meridian which means that a sluggish large intestine may cause over-function of the lungs which may manifest as asthma or hiccups, for example. The reverse is also true so that under-function of the lungs may cause loose stools or diarrhoea.


Muscles associated with the large intestine 

The muscles associated with the large intestine meridian include the paired leg muscles of fascia lata, hamstrings and quadratus lumborum.

  • Fascia lata flexes and bends the thigh and draws the leg away sideways and weakness of these muscles will cause the legs to bow.
  • The hamstrings cause the legs to flex and turn the leg sideways when the knee is bent and weakness of these muscles may cause bowed or knock-kneed legs. 
  • Quadratus lumborum flexes the legs in relation to the torso and stabilises the lower back. Weakness of this muscle will cause a pronounced lumbar curve or lower back pain. 


In short, weakness of the legs or chronic lower back pain may have its origins in the functions of the large intestine. Certainly, a series of colonic hydrotherapy sessions has been known to relieve back pain and this may be a direct result of relief of pressure of the bowel contents on the adjacent muscles of the spine. 


Neurolymphatic points

The neurolymphatic points associated with the large intestine run down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee, the inner part of the upper thigh and are also found in the small of the back.

These points are associated with the colon such that the ascending colon and the right side of the transverse colon are reflected on the outer right thigh. The points relating to the ileocaecal valve are near the hip and those relating to the right hand side of the transverse colon are near the knee.

The same is true of the left hand side so that the left side of the transverse colon is represented near the knee and the descending colon ending with the Houston valve is near the knee.

Rubbing these points vigorously can help to promote improved bowel function if you are constipated. Also, any points that are particularly tender may give you clues as to which part of the colon is congested. Any points that are tender need rubbing!


Other TCM large intestine associations  

The functions associated with the large intestine meridian are most active between 5 and 7 a.m. This means that ideally one of the first actions of your day should be to evacuate the stool formed from the food consumed the previous day.

The large intestine is associated with the base or root chakra and this chakra is also associated with home, family and grounding. It also governs the functions of the adrenal glands, the kidneys, the legs and the spine.


Further resources

You might also be interested in the following: 

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How the Body Heals


The Health Benefits of Colonic Hydrotherapy

Gluten Intolerance

The Small Intestine

The Second Brain

The Scoop on Poop


Coeliac Disease: An Undiagnosed Epidemic

For an explanation of the processes involved in detoxifying the body, please refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Colon Cleansing and Why Health Begins in the Colon listed under Natural Recovery in the Audio Hub
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The Road to Health is Paved With Good Intestines


Or for all media use the Search facility at the top of the page


The large intestine and guilt: Article summary

This article looks at the structure, function and disorders of the large intestine or colon. Associations with the emotion of guilt and of letting go of historic emotional issues are discussed along with the muscles, meridian and the various points associated with the large intestine according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.   


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine November 2010 Issue 11. Copyright Alison Adams 2010. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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