Can Diet And Exercise Really Help To Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

Last week we mentioned how people ignore signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer because they are “too embarrassed to talk about it.”  Or, undergo the preventable screening of a colonoscopy that could diagnose this preventable and treatable cancer.

You can make healthier food choices.  We’ve heard it all before: “Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and less processed food.”  But they often leave out the “why” of these food choices. Let’s look at the “why” in more detail since knowledge is power, even over our appetite and cravings.

It just makes sense that fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier!

They are packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.  They haven’t been processed in any way.  They don’t have any preservatives to give them a longer shelf life, or additives, to make them look and taste any better than nature intended.   Antioxidants are very important in the fight against colorectal, as well as other cancers.

Antioxidants bolster the body’s defenses against potentially dangerous substances called free radicals.  Studies have shown that antioxidants absorbed from fruits and vegetables are more effective as opposed to supplements.  In addition, fruits and vegetables have fiber (a stringy, thread-like, or filament structure) naturally occurring in their cellular structure.

Why is fiber so important?

As food goes through our digestive system, it is broken down in our stomach and the nutritive values are absorbed in our small intestine.  The small intestine is a 23-foot long tube, full of blood vessels.  It is a semipermeable membrane that allows the nutrients to be absorbed into our blood stream for our body’s use.

The non-nutritive matter that remains continues on into the 5-foot long tube called the colon that is larger in diameter.  It is kept in this larger tube till it gets full and peristaltic activity occurs; then, it is passed out as stool or feces.

At this point where the material that was formerly ‘food’ has been transformed into waste matter or stool, it is full of bacteria and other harmful toxins.  This is where fiber in our diet plays a significant role in this particular process.  The more we have of it, the better off we will be.  Fiber is fibrous, stringy, has air spaces, and absorbs harmful toxins and bacteria from the stool into itself as well as keeping these substances out of contact with the lining of the large intestine.  The fibrous membranes are also bulky, so they fill up the colon faster.  This bulk causes the peristaltic action, which is another name for contractions, to kick in sooner, and eliminate the stool from our bodies quickly and naturally.

Without enough fiber the waste and toxins will just sit in the colon for long periods, contributing to constipation. This waste, full of bacteria, toxins, additives, and preservatives, sitting in the colon for longer periods can also create inflammation in the colon wall that contribute to the creation of polyps and eventually cancer.

What other foods are helpful besides fruits, vegetables, and whole grains?

Well, yogurt, buttermilk, kifir, and probiotics (such as Align) are other foods that promote intestinal health. The probiotic bacteria in these foods fortify your good intestinal flora and prevent the growth of potential disease-producing bacteria. Yogurt that is fortified with extra fiber is especially effective for promoting fast waste elimination. Yogurt is also a good source of absorbable calcium and vitamin D; which a lack of these two nutrients has been found to increase your risk of colon cancer.

Are there any other diet decisions I should consider?

Yes.  Use alcohol in moderation and stop smoking.  Heavy alcohol consumption and smoking have been linked to colon, breast, and liver cancers.  Moderation is defined as two alcohol drinks for men and one drink for women per day.

Also, watch your weight, and exercise regularly!

image-sfl-couric-250x200Studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for developing polyps.   A study at Michigan State University by Jenifer Fenton looked at data on men, aged 48 to 65 who had routine colonoscopies. The study revealed that over time, as the men became more obese, there was a correlative increase in the number of polyps in their colon.  As discussed in our previous articles, polyps are the tissue that can progress and become cancerous.

A sedentary lifestyle, such as sitting, watching TV, and other screen-based entertainment contributes to obesity.  A lack of activity has been clearly linked to increased risk of several types of cancers, including colorectal. According to the American Cancer Societyexercise at moderate intensity is recommended for at least 150 minutes per week.

Maintaining a healthy diet with daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, moderate amount of alcohol, elimination of smoking, and regular exercise are all lifestyle changes that can significantly decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.

Want to find out more?

PhD, RD; Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD, RD; Elisa V. Bandera, MD, PhD; Susan Gapstur, PhD, MPH; Alpa V. Patel, PhD; Kimberly Andrews; Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, MPH and The American Cancer Society 2010 Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee.  American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, January 11, 2012; 62:30-67.

Susie’s Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – HHS HealthBeat (March 14, 2014)
Fat and Colon Cancer
4 Foods that Prevent Colon Cancer

American Institute for Cancer Research
Preventing Colon Cancer: Six Steps to Reduce Your Risk

American Cancer Society
Can colorectal cancer be prevented?

Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.


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