Colorectal Cancer month

My histology teacher said to us in medical school, “We are one big tube from our mouth to our anus, with arms and legs.” That’s actually not too far from the truth. Digestion begins in the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach, where food will enter the nearly 30 foot long pathway of our small intestine, ending with the appendix and cecum. The large intestine (colon) starts in our right lower quadrant, followed by our rectum to anus, and voila! Bowel movement. All this dirty talk (pun intended) is to bring awareness to National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. The colon serves many roles, such as absorbing water, nutrients, and electrolytes from food that was not digested in the small intestine, and eliminates solid waste from the body.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S, the third most common types of non-skin cancer in both men and women, and 90% of new cases occur in people 50 or older. Fortunately, there are more than one million CRC survivors. Risk factors include family history, polyps, history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, diabetes, obesity, diet high in fat and cholesterol, and poor lifestyle factors.
According to WebMD, the most likely warning signs early on include changes in bowel movements, stools with blood, long, thin “pencil stools”, abdominal discomfort, unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite and/or weight loss, and pelvic pain, which occurs later in the disease. Regular screening is recommended from age 50 until age 75, as long as results are negative. A higher risk or positive family history may warrant earlier screening. Colonoscopy is a common method, performed every 10 years with a negative test, and has been shown to reduce risk of CRC by about 60-70%. If something seems suspicious, a biopsy is performed, and staged if indicative of cancer. Out of 4 stages, stages 1-2A & 3B can have over 87% 5 year survival rate, while stages 2B, can 3A-4 have less than 69% survival rates.

How can you naturally treat, or prevent colon cancer? Follow these diet and lifestyle guidelines to help protect yourself against developing CRC:

1) Increase daily intake of fiber
Bacteria within your colon feed on fiber, and break it down in order to provide nutrients that will nourish the cells that line the colon. 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds per day, sprinkled on meals, or in your smoothie, is a great place to start. Increase your water intake too to ensure you’re getting maximal benefit that fiber provides as food moves through your GI tract. Whole fruits and vegetables are rich sources of fiber (blending and dried fruit minimizes the amount of fiber).

2) Increase antioxidant rich sources
Time to add in those fruits and vegetables! Think a rainbow of nutrition- berries, dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables pomegranate, avocado, etc. Green tea is also a great source of antioxidants, and squeeze in some lemon to enhance its effects.

3) Avoid high ‘unhealthy’ fat foods, processed food, smoking, and alcohol
Acetylaldehyde, the most toxic product of alcohol metabolism, is carcinogenic and genotoxic when it comes in contact with esophageal, and gastrointestinal mucosa. Include healthy fats that provide an optimal balance of fats we need, like omega 3 and 6, like olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and avocado. Choose lean meats over fatty cuts, and go for organic or grassfed when possible.

4) Increase garlic, and selenium rich foods
Garlic’s protective effects may arise from ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, halt activation of cancer-causing substances, enhance repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death. Add fresh garlic to your meals. Selenium not only inhibits colon cancer, but can also enhance or work with some cancer drugs. Rich sources include garlic, onions, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, brazil nuts, and fish.