Being on a college campus and taking the precautions to stay healthy can be tough. Students eat whatever is available, even if it isn’t the healthiest option. Most students aren’t aware that regularly consuming food lacking key nutrients has a much more detrimental effect than many realize.

Dr. Rajiv Sharma, a local gastroenterologist, visited Indiana State to educate students, faculty and local residents about the importance of proper colon health. 

Sharma explained the basic functions of the colon and its purpose in the body. The organ works to remove waste products from the body. As part of the digestive system, the colon works alongside organs such as the stomach and small intestine to remove stool and maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

Terre Haute resident Lori Staffort says, “I never imagined that this simple organ played such an important role in my health.” Staffort isn’t wrong; the colon helps to remove waste and toxins from the body.

According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of death in cancers that affect both men and women. In his presentation, Sharma detailed ways to keep the colon healthy.

The food we consume greatly impacts colon health. Diets high in fat, sugar and red meat can increase the risk of colon cancer. Sharma recommends staying hydrated and receiving routine screening exams to check the inner lining for polyps or growths that may be early indicators of colorectal cancer. Sharma also notes that excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking can also increase one’s risk for colon cancer.

 “It’s kind of scary that so many of the foods I love can be so harmful to my health,” says senior Jynae Valieana, “It will certainly impact my diet going forward.”

As a gastroenterologist, Sharma regularly sees patients with colon cancer. Luckily, it’s an easily preventable cancer. Sharma suggests eating foods high in fiber, such as whole- grains, fruits and vegetables. It’s not enough to drink just fruit juice, since it’s quite low in fiber.

Sharma also encourages daily exercise and drinking plenty of water. The colon needs water in order to properly rid the body of waste. Calcium is also critical in maintaining good colon health. Milk is a great source of calcium, but daily calcium requirements can also be met by consuming dark, leafy greens, such as spinach or kale.

Sharma also emphasized that while some dietary supplements can help, eating a well- balanced diet is the best way to keep one’s colon, as well as one’s whole body, in tip top shape. 

 “I always thought of dietary supplements like probiotics or vitamin C tablets were enough for my body to get the nutrients it needs,” says junior Tyrelle Livingston, “after listening to Dr. Sharma speak, I now know that a balanced diet will benefit me far more than supplements.”

As an athlete, Livingston regularly exercises, but explains that sometimes he doesn’t always eat the healthiest meals.

“On campus, I eat for convenience. I mean, the Commons are full of fast food, and it’s just easier to get something from Burger King or Pizza Hut than to go to the dining hall,” says Livingston.

That is exactly the type of behavior Sharma hoped to stop. He provided a list of several foods that are easy to prepare and good for the gut. Salads containing dark, leafy greens provide plenty of calcium and fiber. Oatmeal can be sweet or savory, providing lots of fiber. 

If experiencing gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea, Sharma recommends adding these foods to your diet little by little over time, rather than all at once.

It can be overwhelming to maintain good colon health. Sharma encouraged the audience not to give up. Colon health is essential to holistic health; in other words, a healthy colon means a healthy you.