What does the bowel do?

Gut, bowel, large bowel, intestine, colon and rectum


We use many words to describe our guts but basically these terms cover the long tube of muscle running from the stomach through the small bowel past the appendix through the colon and down to the rectum.

What does it do? When we eat, food passes down into our stomach then nutrients are absorbed through the lining of the small bowel and into our bodies. The leftovers progress into the large bowel - a sort of fermenting storage area - which produces varing amounts of gas. In some people, this may be the cause of their bloating, discomfort, even abdominal pain, if the bowel isn't dealing with this smoothly. Reasons for this can include not enough - or too much - roughage or fibre in our diet.

Where are the stools stored? The remaining food matter is mostly stored on the right side of the bowel then once or twice a day in a mass movement this moves to the left when we get an urge to go to the toilet. The motions usually held in the rectum or back passage for short periods of time until it is convenient for us to get to a toilet. The bowel secretes mucus to help move the waste along, which is why people may spot mucus in their stools. 

How often does the bowel empty? Most people go between once ever 2 days to up to twice a day although it can vary in any one person from time to time. Water is removed along the colon and, if you don’t go to the toilet every day or most days, more water can be absorbed, making your motions firmer and occasionally more difficult to pass. That’s why going to the toilet when you feel the need is a good idea and why it’s important for the young to develop good bowel habits.

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