Jeoffrey Drobot, ND
Cancer is a word that once uttered can engulf a person's life and fill it with fear and uncertainty. Colon, meanwhile, is a word that for most individuals conjures up quite a different, but equally dangerous, emotion of embarrassment.
Cancer is a word that once uttered can engulf a person's life and fill it with fear and uncertainty. Colon, meanwhile, is a word that for most individuals conjures up quite a different, but equally dangerous, emotion of embarrassment. Combine the two words together and you have colorectal cancer (CRC), which is the second deadliest form of cancer that affects over 17,000 Canadians every year. The most incredible fact about CRC is that when detected early, it is a highly treatable disease that does not necessarily become life threatening. In the majority of cases, it is preventable rather than inevitable and a few minor lifestyle changes coupled with routine diagnostic testing may be the difference between life and death.
Risks and Detection
The typical progression of CRC begins with growths in the lining of the colon called adenomatous polyps. Over the years these polyps grow larger and expand in number, increasing the risk that the cells in the polyps will become cancerous. The risk factors for developing CRC appear to be the "usual suspects" you'll find for most cancers: age, family history, diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical inactivity. Again, as with most cancers, detection and prevention are the two most effective ways to avoid CRC. Timely removal of these growths, easily done during a colonoscopy, will prevent colorectal cancer from developing; therefore, it is important to identify and remove these polyps as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people over 50 years of age have a fecal occult blood test once a year, a colonoscopy once every five years, and a full X-ray of the colon every 10 years. These routine diagnostic procedures are the key in preventing the progression of this disease, however, prevention early on is the key to avoiding it completely.
Let's Talk Prevention
Diet and the vitamin quality of your food may be your best defence. The supplements studied and found to be the most effective at reducing the risk of developing CRC are easily attained at any health food store. Here are some of the best:
Folic Acid: For such an inexpensive compound, this B vitamin appears to be one of the most useful supplements in reducing the risk of CRC. Long-term use of a multivitamin containing folic acid may reduce the risk of colon cancer in women by as much as 75 percent. Research indicated that women whose folic acid intakes exceeded 400 micrograms (mcg) per day were 31-percent less likely to develop colon cancer than those who consumed only 200 mcg per day or less of the vitamin.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D appears to be more of a hormonal compound than an actual nutrient. Vitamin D, calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is found in food, but also can be made in your body after exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Researchers in the 1980s studied more than 25,000 people for 10 years and determined that people who had normal vitamin D levels reduced their risk of colon cancer by 80 percent.
Calcium: Researchers examined the association between calcium intake and colon cancer risk among nearly 88,000 women in the Nurses' Health Study and more than 47,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. During follow-up, 626 women and 399 men developed colon cancer. The investigators determined that people with a calcium intake of 700 to 800 milligrams (mg) per day from diet or supplements had a 40- to 50-percent lower risk of cancer of the colon than those who consumed 500 mg or less of calcium per day.
Exercise and Water: The men who consumed the most water had a 92-percent lower risk of rectal cancer than those who drank the least water. What's more, the men with the most active lifestyles had 83-percent lower risk of colon cancer compared to men with sedentary lifestyles. The reason? Exercise stimulates the colon and decreases the period of time that potential carcinogens in partially digested food are in contact with the intestinal lining. Similarly, increased water intake may be an important factor in decreasing both bowel transit time and the concentration of carcinogenic compounds within the digestive tract.
When you weigh the benefits against the amount of effort required or money invested, you'd have to agree that taking these small measures are well worth your time and dollars. Supplements aside, the most important steps in preventing CRC are to live a healthy lifestyle, eat whole foods, and avoid lifestyle choices that could deplete your body of these vital nutrients.