Colon Cancer: Reduce Your Risk
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA. Here are three ways (in diet) to reduce your risk.
The exact cause of colorectal cancer remains uncertain, but some factors can increase risk. These include:
- tobacco smoking
- certain hereditary cancer syndromes
- a family history of colorectal cancer.
Today, we turn to 3 key things you can do that may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Watch the sodium nitrite.
Think bacon, hot dogs, salami, and processed lunch meats. Sodium nitrite is a common preservative for these foods. When that substance hits our stomach acid during digestion, it may convert to nitrosamine, a known cancer-causing substance.
Nitrites and processed meats are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer compared to lower intakes. For those who enjoy processed meats, you may want to look for nitrite-free products, such as those marketed by the Applegate Farms brand.
2. Eat more fruits and non-starchy vegetables
I guess my mom was right. Yes, it may help if you consume more dark leafy greens, bell peppers, tomatoes, beets, squashes, carrots, asparagus, and cabbage. You get the picture. Such foods appear to reduce colon and rectal cancer incidence, although we don’t have high-level evidence such as randomized trials (diet studies are notoriously challenging).
We don’t know why these foods provide protection, but it may be related to their antioxidant content. Or perhaps it’s the fiber or phytochemicals.
Here’s what we do know: Research has shown that people with diets highest in fruit and non-starchy veggies have a lower risk of developing digestive system cancers (including colon and rectal).
3. Get fiber
Get fiber, preferably from whole foods. This non-digestible plant material appears to lower colon cancer risk. As it travels through the colon, fiber may trap dietary cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) in the stool, taking them out of the body before they can cause cancer.
Fiber also provides fuel to the bacteria that live within our guts. These microorganisms produce cancer-preventing (or rather, risk-reducing) byproducts called short-chain fatty acids.
Aim to increase your intake of fiber-rich foods such as beans, seeds, nuts, oatmeal, and bran cereal. Such an approach is thought preferable to fiber-fortified, highly-processed foods. Most of the available research looking at the risk-reducing effects of high fiber diets examined fiber from whole foods — which is often different from the laboratory-made fiber added to functional foods.
While I am not an edamame fan (despite strong familial connections to Japan), it may benefit you. Alternatively, try some dry roasted chickpeas or even popcorn! And if you eat oatmeal with nuts (instead of a packaged cereal bar) for breakfast, good for you.
A final note: Expert groups typically based recommendations on only low-level evidence (observational trials). Remember this as you hear about any dietary guidance!
I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Thank you for joining me today. While I am primarily in the treatment realm as a radiation oncologist, I feel that we should do a better job in the wellness arena.