This topic may not be the most glamorous, but it is undeniably important - colorectal cancer prevention. The colon is a part of the body that doesn't usually get much spotlight. But here's the thing: this unsung hero plays a crucial role in your overall health and deserves your attention.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, with nearly 2 million cases diagnosed each year! Sadly, it is also the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, claiming nearly 1 million lives each year.
But there is the good news! Colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable types of cancer, and there are many things you can do to give yourself and your loved ones the best fighting chance against colorectal cancer.
So, buckle up and join us as we journey through the twists and turns of your digestive tract, exploring the top 12 most practical and effective strategies to keep your colon healthy and reduce your risk of this horrible disease.
Table of Contents:
- Get screened
- Avoid red meat
- Avoid processed meats
- Avoid foods with a high glycemic load
- Eat more whole grains with fiber
- Increase your intake of cruciferous vegetables
- Eat more nuts
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol - zero is best
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D
- Utilise herbal remedies
- Final Thoughts
- Recipe Spotlight: Glowing Green Smoothie Bowl
1. Get screened
Increase your chances of surviving cancer by diagnosing and treating it early. Catching cancer in its early stages makes it easier to treat and can also help prevent the disease by detecting abnormal growths that can become cancerous.
There are multiple effective screening tests for colon cancer, including colonoscopies, home stool tests, FIT (fecal immunochemical test) or FOBT (fecal occult blood test), stool DNA tests, and sigmoidoscopies.
Some of these tests are simple but need to be done more frequently, while others are more involved but require less frequent testing. The choice of test depends on your medical history and personal preference. Your doctor can assist you in making this decision.
Most individuals should begin getting tested for colon cancer at age 45. However, if you have a family history or other risk factors, you may need to get tested earlier and undergo more frequent screenings. If you have a family history of colon cancer, genetic testing can provide vital information about your risk.
2. Avoid red meat
When it comes to preventing colon cancer, avoiding red meat is one of the best things you can do.
According to a comprehensive meta-analysis of 29 studies, individuals with a high intake of red meat face a 28% higher risk of developing colon cancer. According to the WHO, for every 100 grams of red meat eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 17%.
Some scientists have pointed to chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures (for example, through barbequing, frying or broiling). However, new research from England suggests that this explanation may not tell the whole story.
In a ground-breaking study, healthy volunteers agreed to stay in a research unit where their diet and waste could be closely examined. The volunteers were divided into three groups: one consumed a diet high in red meat, prepared to minimize HCA formation; another group followed a strict vegetarian diet, and the third group had a diet consisting of both red meat and high amounts of dietary fiber.
Results showed that the volunteers who consumed the high-meat diet had a significant amount of potentially cancer-causing chemicals called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs) in their stool. On the other hand, those who followed the vegetarian diet excreted low levels of NOCs, while the group on the high-meat, high-fiber diet fell somewhere in between.
What's truly intriguing about this study is that the researchers were able to analyze cells shed from the colon lining in the participants' stool. They discovered that those who consumed the high-meat diet had a large number of cells with DNA changes induced by NOCs. In contrast, vegetarians had the lowest number of damaged cells, while individuals on the high-meat, high-fiber diet showed an intermediate level of damage.
3. Avoid processed meats
Processed meats are even worse for increasing your risk of colorectal cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), even just eating 50 grams of processed meat daily (about two slices of ham) increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%!
The WHO has even classified processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and sausages to be in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos. This also includes canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.
4. Avoid foods with a high glycemic load
Being overweight poses a greater risk of cancer than any other factor except smoking. In fact, over 13 different types of cancer, including colon cancer, have been associated with weight gain and obesity. The National Cancer Institute states that individuals with obesity have a 1.3 times higher likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.
One of the reasons for this increased risk is that people with obesity often have elevated levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in their blood. This condition, known as hyperinsulinemia, is caused by insulin resistance and precedes the onset of type 2 diabetes, which is also a known risk factor for cancer. High levels of insulin and IGF-1 can contribute to the development of colon, kidney, prostate, and endometrial cancers.
To reduce the risk of cancer, it is recommended to avoid foods with a high glycemic index, as these can raise blood levels of insulin and IGF-1. This includes foods such as white bread, white rice, breakfast cereals and cereal bars, cookies and cakes, potatoes, chips and crackers, and sweetened dairy products such as fruit yogurts.
5. Eat more whole grains and fiber
Decrease your chances of developing colon cancer by incorporating whole grains and fiber into your diet. Unfortunately, many individuals fail to consume sufficient amounts of either. Strive to consume at least three servings of whole grains each day and aim for a daily fiber intake of 25 to 40 grams. Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain foods like quinoa and buckwheat.
6. Increase your intake of cruciferous vegetables
Studies have linked increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, collard greens, radishes and Brussel sprouts with a decrease in rates of many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables contain the potent anti-cancer compound sulforaphane as well as the antioxidants isothiocyanate and glucosinolate which have been shown to detoxify and remove carcinogens, prevent tumors from growing and stimulate apoptosis in which cancer cells self-destruct. Glucosinolates can also reduce inflammation, inhibit enzymes that activate carcinogens and stimulate enzymes that deactivate carcinogens. Green leafy vegetables also contain two powerful carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have the ability to block early cancer development.
7. Eat more nuts
A diet rich in nuts, which not only helps prevent obesity, type II diabetes, and insulin resistance, has also been shown to decrease the risk of cancer recurrence and death in patients with stage 3 cancer.
In an observational study of 826 individuals with stage III colon cancer, those who consumed at least two ounces of tree nuts per week (approximately 48 almonds or 36 cashews) had a 42% lower risk of colon cancer recurrence and a 57% lower risk of fatality compared to those who did not eat nuts. Tree nuts include walnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, among others.
8. Exercise regularly
Obesity poses one of the greatest risk factors for colorectal cancer.
Therefore, people who are more physically active which can help you maintain a healthy body weight, have a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.
According to UK guidelines, it is recommended to engage in daily activity, with at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise over a week. This can be achieved by doing 30 minutes of brisk walking, five times a week, gradually increasing to 60 minutes. If you're starting from a low activity level, begin with 10 minutes and work your way up. The guidelines also suggest incorporating strength training workouts twice a week. Additionally, it is important for adults, especially those over 65, to limit sedentary behavior for long periods of time.
9. Don’t smoke
For all the smokers out there: stubbing out that cigarette could significantly reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. You see, smoking is a major risk factor for colorectal cancer. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the DNA in your cells, including those in your colon and rectum, leading to abnormal cell growth and potentially cancer.
Moreover, studies reveal a dire health risk for long-term smokers especially - an increased likelihood of developing and succumbing to colorectal cancer compared to non-smokers. So, by quitting smoking, you're not just giving your lungs a breather; you're also taking a crucial step towards protecting your gut health and reducing your colorectal cancer risk. Remember, it's never too late to quit, and every smoke-free day is a victory for your health!
10. Limit alcohol - zero is best
Quitting alcohol can significantly reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. In fact, a 2011 meta-analysis found that even drinking just more than one alcoholic beverage per day can significantly increase your risk. Alcohol can damage the lining of our gut, leading to inflammation and a variety of digestive disorders. Over time, this damage can contribute to the development of colorectal cancer.
Alcohol also hampers our body's ability to absorb essential nutrients, further compromising our gut health. By saying goodbye to alcohol, you're not only reducing your risk of colorectal cancer but also promoting a healthier, happier gut.
11. Get enough calcium and vitamin D
Increasing your intake of plant-based, calcium-rich foods and boosting your vitamin D levels can significantly reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of our colon cells, while vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, and together, they work to promote healthy cell growth in our colon.
Foods like leafy greens, broccoli, and fortified plant-based milks are excellent sources of calcium. Meanwhile, you can boost your vitamin D levels through sensible sun exposure and foods like mushrooms and fortified cereals.
12. Utilise herbal remedies
Harnessing the power of nature, herbal remedies have shown promising potential in the prevention and therapy of colon cancer. Various herbs, including turmeric, green tea, garlic, olive fruit extract, and pomegranate, have been studied for their anti-cancer properties.
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells and reduce inflammation. Similarly, the polyphenols in green tea have demonstrated anti-cancer effects, while garlic's organosulfur compounds have been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer.
However, while these findings are encouraging, it's important to remember that herbal remedies should be used as part of a comprehensive approach to cancer prevention and treatment, and always under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Well, that’s it folks!
The journey to preventing colorectal cancer is not a sprint, but a marathon. It's about making consistent, healthy choices in your diet and lifestyle. From filling your plate with fiber-rich foods and colorful fruits and veggies, to saying no to smoking, alcohol and processed meats, each decision is a step towards a healthier gut.
Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight further fortify this defense. Remember, it's not about perfection, but progress. Every small change you make can have a significant impact on your health. So, here's to embracing a lifestyle that celebrates health, nourishment, and the joy of feeling good from the inside out. Your body, especially your colon, will thank you!
Recipe Spotlight: Glowing Green Smoothie Bowl
A delightful concoction that brings together an array of wholesome and nutrient-packed ingredients. Packed with vibrant flavors and nourishing goodness, this smoothie is sure to kickstart your day with a burst of energy and keep you feeling refreshed and revitalized. Enjoy!