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What does the bowel do?

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

We use many words to describe our guts but basically this leaflet is referring to the long tube of muscle running from the appendix through the colon and down to the rectum.

When we eat, food passes down into our stomach then nutrients are absorbed through the bowel lining and into our bodies. The leftovers progress into the large bowel - a sort of fermenting storage area - which can produce 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.

The remaining food matter (motions) is mostly stored on the right side of the bowel then once or twice a day in a mass movement, moves to the left when we get an urge to go to the loo. The motions can be held in the rectum or back passage until we can get to a loo.

The bowel secretes mucus to help move the waste along, which is why people may spot mucus in their stools. Water is removed along the way and, if you don’t go to the loo every day or most days, more water can be absorbed, making your motions firmer and more difficult to pass. That’s why going to the loo 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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