Tips to Help Prevent Colon Cancer
- By: Lauren Bruun
- Nutrition Gut Health
- September 17, 2021
- 12 Min read
Colon cancer is a common cause of death in the United States, with 200,000 new cases every year. Although it usually affects people in the 50s and older, anyone can get colon cancer. Also known as colorectal cancer, the best way to treat it is to prevent it in the first place. In this post, we look at small changes you can make today, to reduce your risk of colon cancer.
Colon cancer begins as non-cancerous growths (polyps) on the inner walls of the lower digestive tract. For reasons not fully understood, these polyps become cancerous over time. It’s suspected that certain kinds of inflammation lead to damage in the intestinal tissue’s ability to reproduce itself without errors. The damaged tissue begins to grow out of control, leading to cancerous tumors.
During this process of initial cancer growth, a person may have no symptoms at all. When symptoms arise, they can include:
- Blood in the stool, rectal bleeding not due to hemorrhoids
- Black, tarry stools
- Weight loss for no reason
- Persistent change in your stool, such as constipation or diarrhea, that is not the result of a passing illness
- Persistent abdominal discomfort which may or may not rise to severe pain
- Feeling that your bowel movements are not emptying completely
As with all diseases and disorders, prevention is the best approach to use if at all possible. Here is a list of supplements and foods, all having both preventative and positive treatment effects on colon cancer. Many of them reduce the levels of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are the by-products of cells using nutrients for energy. Accumulations of free radicals damage cells, causing inflammation and also interfering with the way cells reproduce themselves.
- Fiber. Fiber has long been famed as a powerful cancer preventative, especially for colon cancer. Increasing one’s fiber intake also boosts a person’s overall health. The best sources of fiber include fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouted whole-grains, brown rice, beans, and berries. You may also get fiber from fiber supplements. Methylcellulose and psyllium fiber are common examples.
- Vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D and calcium, taken together, may help prevent colon cancer. Vitamin D is known to reduce inflammation in tissues, particularly inflammation that causes changes in how cells reproduce. You can find vitamin D in grass fed dairy, wild caught salmon, wild caught cod liver oil, pasture raised chicken liver and egg yolks. The best source of vitamin D is safe sunlight exposure.
- Calcium. You can find calcium in grass fed dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and milk. Fish, like sardines and salmon, are also good sources of calcium. Most dark-green leafy vegetables are a rich source of calcium.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Certain kinds of inflammation are thought to contribute to cells becoming cancerous. Much like vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids reduce this inflammation throughout the body. They are found in cold-water ocean fish, like salmon, sardines, and cod. You can also get omega-3 fatty acids in ground flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Vitamin E. Low levels of vitamin E have been associated with several kinds of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps scavenge free radicals out of the body. It’s known to reduce the risk of several kinds of cancer, including colon cancer. You can get it from supplements or foods like avocados, mangos, broccoli, olive oil, and almonds.
- Phytochemicals. Phytochemicals include chemical groups like terpenes, flavonoids, and polyphenols. These are complex compounds found in plants like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, berries, artichokes, and cabbage. Researchers have found that phytochemicals slow the progression of many kinds of cancer, including colon cancer. They also reduce inflammation and help prevent damage to cellular DNA.
- Green tea. Green tea contains phytochemicals, specifically polyphenols, that help reduce tissue inflammation that can lead to cancer.
- Selenium. Selenium is an element that may help prevent the transition of polyps from benign to malignant growths. Selenium is an extremely powerful antioxidant that removes chemically reactive compounds called free radicals from the body. The optimal source of selenium is Brazil nuts, just two of these nuts provide you with your daily selenium needs.
- Turmeric. Turmeric, a plant-derived spice, contains curcumin, an agent known to slow tumor growth and kill cancer cells. You can find it in supplements or the spice section of your local grocery store.
- Ginger. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and blocks the development of two particular enzymes (cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase) that lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. Ginger also lowers inflammation of the gut tissues that lead to the formation of pre-cancerous polyps.
Healthy Lifestyle Changes that Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
- Add vegetables, low sugar fruits like berries, and sprouted whole-grains to your diet. Choose a variety of colorful foods, as that will give you the most phytochemicals in your diet.
- Avoid foods that are high in processed inflammatory fats and low in fiber.
- Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week.
- Drink only in moderation. A moderate amount of alcohol is two drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women.
- Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese is correlated with colon cancer, particularly in men.
- If you smoke, stop.
- Starting at age 45, get screened for colon cancer. There are at-home tests that are non-invasive, which can detect the presence of occult (hidden) blood, a cardinal sign of colon cancer. Early detection is a powerful life-saving tool in fighting colorectal cancer.
To determine your risk factors, and how to reduce them, you can consult with a health coach or your physician. They can help you determine what changes will make the biggest difference in reducing your risk of colon cancer.