8 Steps to Naturally Reduce Your Risk of Colon Cancer
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance and the American Cancer Society, colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the U.S.
Colon cancer is considered a preventable cancer. Why? Primarily because by changing our diet we can reduce risk dramatically. And if we get regular screenings (colonoscopies), we may be diagnosed only with precancerous or early stage cancer cells that are easily removed and treated.
8 Proven Steps You Can Take to Naturally Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is a "food-related" cancer. (1) Everything you eat passes over the lining of your digestive tract. The lining of the large intestine and the rectum at the lower end of the digestive tube contains waste, digestive fluids, bile acids and fiber. That lining is bathed by chemicals in food, your own hormones and secretions, and healthy and unhealthy bacteria. The contents of your intestines have a direct impact on the health of the cells lining the bowel. Colorectal cancer is directly impacted by your diet.
1. Eat Less Red Meat
Studies show eating red meat "frequently" increases the incidence of colon cancer. Eating red meat daily and especially more than one serving per day increased risk. Plant-based diets showed lowest risk (1). Increased risk is associated with increased inflammation associated with chemicals released by digestion of red meat. These chemicals increase damage to and inhibit the repair of DNA (genetic material) in the cells lining your intestines (2). Damage to DNA is a primary cause of all cancers.
2. Eat More Garlic
According to the National Cancer Institute fact sheet on garlic and cancer prevention:
Preliminary studies suggest that garlic consumption may reduce the risk of developing several types of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract ...
Protective effects from garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, halt the activation of cancer-causing substances, enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death ...
Garlic is high in the minerals sulfur and selenium as well as plant chemicals such as allicilin and flavonoids, all known to be beneficial to health. The World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines for general health promotion for adults is a daily dose of 2 to 5 g of fresh garlic (approximately one clove) daily. (3) (4)
Other food plants in this family with similar properties include onions, leeks, scallions, and chives.
3. Eat a Rainbow of Plant Antioxidants
The deep, bright colors of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices contribute a wide variety of antioxidants to the diet. Examples of antioxidant-rich, deeply-pigmented foods are blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates, carrots, apricots, cantaloupe, kale, broccoli, spinach, avocado, tomato, apples, red cabbage, red and purple grapes, pink grapefruit, tumeric, saffron, oregano, sage, rosemary. Color signals the presence of antioxidant plant chemicals that turn on cancer suppressor genes and turn off cancer promoter genes. Studies show increased levels of inflammation and oxidative stress in the colon with diets lacking plant antioxidants. Increased inflammation and low antioxidant levels are environments that promote colon cancer. (6) (7) Eat 6-10 servings daily.
4. Use Olive Oil
Olive oil contains plant chemicals that have anti-cancer properties. Olive oil reduces bile acid and increases enzymes that regulate cell turnover in the lining of the intestines, promoting healthy tissue. Plant compounds called phenols present in olive oil also exert a cancer-protective antioxidant effect. (8)
5. Include Selenium-Rich Foods
Studies show that selenium not only inhibits colon cancer but can also enhance or work with some cancer drugs. Selenium not only protects colon cancer cells but also inhibits growth and promotes death of colon cancer cells. (9) Foods rich in selenium include garlic and onions, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, whole grains (brown rice, oats, wheat germ), brazil nuts, fish (tuna, halibut, sardines, salmon). Chinese herbs also provide a source of selenium. In some areas the soil is very poor in selenium; therefore, taking a supplement in capsule form of methyselenocysteine, biologically active oral selenium, may provide a source absent in the diet.
6. Include Spices and Herbs That Inhibit Colon Cancer
Studies show that garlic, ginger, tumeric, thyme, rosemary, sage, spearmint, and peppermint all inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells. (11)
7. Include Omega-3 Oils
A diet rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils (EPA and DHA) decreases incidence of colon cancer. Omega-3 oils are found in cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and cod as well as flax oil. Omega-3 oils decrease the levels of pro-inflammatory molecules that promote cancer. Because it is not always easy to get adequate levels of omega-3 oils (EPA and DHA) in the modern diet, oral supplementation is a good alternative. (12)
8. Drink Tea
Numerous studies have shown that several species of the prized longevity herb ginseng root decrease growth and proliferation of colon cancer cells, increase their demise (increases apoptosis) and act as potent protective anti-cancer antioxidants. Asian ginsengs (Panax ginseng, Panax notoginseng) as well as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) all exhibit these properties. Ginseng root is widely available in tea and extract form as a beverage tea. Under the guidance of a knowledgable clinician, ginseng root has been traditionally used as a medicinal herbal medicine for a wide variety of applications. (13) (14)
Reflecting upon these recommendations for dietary choices, we are describing both traditional Mediterranean and traditional Asian Diets. These diets are naturally low in red meats and animal proteins, high in fish and omega-3 oils, high in olive oil and a wide variety of whole grains and fruits and vegetables as well as herbs and spices with known anti-cancer properties. Cultures where traditional diets are still eaten today have lower rates of colon cancer than countries such as the U.S. and some European countries, where a modern diet seems to promote and create higher risk for colon cancer. (1) (2) (7) (8) (10) (11) (12) The choices seem clear and pretty tasty.
Statements regarding foods, dietary, nutraceutical and botanical supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always check with your health care provider before making decisions.
(1) Arch Med Sci. 2010 Aug 30;6(4):605-10. Epub 2010 Sep 7. Risk of colorectal cancer in relation to frequency and total amount of red meat consumption. Systematic review and meta-analysis. Smolińska K, Paluszkiewicz P.
(2) Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Feb;50(2):95-103. Epub 2011 Oct 14. Red meat intake-induced increases in fecal water genotoxicity correlate with pro-carcinogenic gene expression changes in the human colon. Hebels DG, Sveje KM, de Kok MC, van Herwijnen MH, Kuhnle GG, Engels LG, Vleugels-Simon CB,Mares WG, Pierik M, Masclee AA, Kleinjans JC, de Kok TM.
(3) Fleischauer AT, Arab L. Garlic and cancer: A critical review of the epidemiologic literature. Journal of Nutrition 2001; 131(3s):1032S-1040S.
(4) Shenoy NR, Choughuley AS. Inhibitory effect of diet related sulphydryl compounds on the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.Cancer Letters 1992;65(3):227-232.
(5) Milner JA. Mechanisms by which garlic and allyl sulfur compounds suppress carcinogen bioactivation. Garlic and carcinogenesis. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 2001; 492:69-81.
(6) Russell WR, Drew JE, Scobbie L, Duthie GG. Inhibition of cytokine-induced prostanoid biogenesis by phytochemicals in human colonic fibroblasts. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2006;1762:124-130.
(7) Russell WR, Scobbie L, Chesson A, Richardson AJ, Stewart CS, Duncan SH, Drew JE, Duthie GG. Anti-inflammatory implications of the microbial transformation of dietary phenolic compounds. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60:636-642
(8) Olive oil, diet and colorectal cancer: an ecological study and an hypothesis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2000; 54:756-60
(11) J Sci Food Agric. 2011 Aug 15;91(10):1849-54. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.4394. Epub 2011 Mar 30. Anti-tumorigenic activity of five culinary and medicinal herbs grown under greenhouse conditions and their combination effects.Yi W, Wetzstein HY.
(12) Nutr Rev. 2011 Dec;69(12):730-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00439.x. The Mediterranean diet: effects on proteins that mediate fatty acid metabolism in the colon.
(13) Mechanistic insight into the ability of American ginseng to suppress colon cancer associated with colitis. Cui X, Jin Y, Poudyal D, Chumanevich AA, Davis T, Windust A, Hofseth A, Wu W, Habiger J, Pena E, Wood P, Nagarkatti M, Nagarkatti PS, Hofseth L. Carcinogenesis. 2010 Oct;31(10):1734-41. Epub 2010 Aug 20.
(14) Antioxidant, Antiproliferative, and Pro-Apoptotic Activities of a Saponin Extract Derived from the Roots of Panax notoginseng (Burk.) F.H. Chen. He NW, Zhao Y, Guo L, Shang J, Yang XB.J Med Food. 2012 Feb 8. [Epub ahead of print]
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