Lifestyle Factors in Preventing Colon Cancer

March is national colon cancer awareness month. If you want some tips on what you can do to prevent colon cancer, a 2019 study looking at the impact of weight, food and herbs will give you some ideas.

Diet: High-fat diet, especially animal fat, could lead to the formation of colorectal cancer. Several studies proposed that people who consume an unbalanced diet and diet low in fruits and vegetables may have an increased risk of colorectal cancer (Janout and Kollárová, 2001).
Phytochemicals found in natural food compounds are ideal for chemoprevention. They are polyphenols known to possess antioxidants activity. Many studies have demonstrated that frequent consumption of natural antioxidants found in diet is related with a lower risk of cancer (Aggarwal et al., 2009). Phytochemicals such as lycopene from tomatoes, genistein from soy products and resveratrol from grapes have the ability to lower both morbidity and mortality of many types of cancer. Other foods and herbs that have exhibited anticancer activity include garlic, soybeans, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, celery, parsley, ginger, onions, flax, turmeric, tomatoes, peppers, brown rice, wheat and honey (Sunkara et al., 2009).

In general, try to consume at least 3-6 portions of a great variety of colorful veggies (optimally organic) and 3+ portions of fruit a day and get some soluble and insoluble fiber from whole grains, flax seeds, legumes (only organic soy please) and nuts and seeds.

Other than diet, two interrelated and modifiable risk factors are the excess body weight and physical inactivity. Obesity or extra body weight has been associated with colorectal cancer (de Jong et al., 2005). If you don’t get 3 hours of cardiovascular fitness weekly, remove obstacles to achieving this goal.

Weight: obesity can increase the risk of colon cancer by up to 50%. This is not an easy fix, as you know if you have ever been overweight. If you are struggling with your weight, there could be issues with your hormones, digestive microbiome or metabolic issues. If you haven’t been tested for these, please schedule a visit with Dr. Barb or Dr. Deb to assess these factors.

Gut microbiome: Studies in mouse models suggest two theories that are highly associated with colorectal cancer, the first theory is regarding the imbalances in the gut microbiota or a dysbiotic microbial community in the gut with pro-carcinogenic features driving towards pro-inflammatory state leading to inflammation of epithelial cells, altered metabolism, and genotoxicity. The second theory or the “driver-passenger” theory, indicates that the intestinal bacteria as “bacteria drivers” initiate colorectal cancer by inducing epithelial DNA damage leading to carcinogenesis (de Jong et al., 2005). If you haven’t had your gut microbiome evaluated by stool test, consider the GI Map by Diagnostics Solutions or GI Effects by Genova. You can get a kit from Dr. Barb or Dr. Deb. It is often covered in part by insurance and medicare.

Supplements and Herbs:

  • Green tea (or white tea) is associated with its antioxidant activities and has been found to kill colon cancer cells in vitro (Kumar et al., 2010; Mak, 2012). My favorite is Jasmine Pearls!
  • Curcumin (from turmeric) has been shown to prevent intestinal tumors in animal studies and to decrease intestinal polyps (Jackson and Evers, 2009; Perkins et al., 2002). Consider Curapro, Meriva or CoCurcumin. Unfortunately, one would need to consume the equivalent of 5 TBSP turmeric daily to get enough from food.
  • Ginger extract and its bioactive constituents were demonstrated to suppress the growth of many types of cancers including colon cancer cells mainly by inhibiting proliferation, etc. (Khater, 2010; Habib et al., 2008; Abdullah et al., 2010). MotilPro product contains ginger extracts but you can also shave ½ inch of fresh ginger root into boiling water and make a tasty tea – add some honey if needed.
  • Quercetin is a flavonol mostly found in many fruits and vegetables. The food sources of quercetin include tea, onions, apples, allium vegetables, berries, cucumber, sweet potato, cruciferous vegetables, beans, fruits and even some herbs such as sage, rosemary, and oregano (Djurica et al., 2012). Experimental models of colon cancer suggest that quercetin can inhibit colon tumor formation in vivo and proliferation of colon tumor cells in vitro (Miyamoto et al., 2010; Gerhauser, 2008; Yang et al., 2000).

In conclusion, there are many factors that lead to colon cancer, especially in those who are obese. While some of the mechanisms that answer the question, why include insulin resistance, stress response, inflammation, and hormone changes, there is more study to do to know for sure. However, the beneficial effects of vegetables and fruits in relation to cancer prevention have been proven in many studies. Antioxidants-rich food can either be used alone or in combination in the prevention of not only colon cancer but also in other cancers as well. Can dietary modifications (low consumption of red meat, refined sugars, and starches, sugars) and lifestyle changes (avoidance of alcohol, smoking, and prevention of weight gain) be an answer to lowering the risk of colon cancer? Based on current and past evidence the answer is affirmative but perhaps a larger cohort study all around the world is still needed to address this issue.

Roslan, NH; Makpol, S, et al. A Review on Dietary Intervention in Obesity Associated Colon Cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2019;20*5):1309-1319.