Colon cancer occurs when out of control cell growth occurs in the colon – the lower section of the large intestine. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, this particular cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women combined. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 140,000 people will be diagnosed and more than 50,000 will die from this disease, this year alone.
The good news is – if caught early – it is one of the most highly treatable forms of cancer. Even better news is that in most cases it is preventable.
Consume Less Red Meat
There have been conflicting reports linking red meat and colon cancer. The results from numerous studies are in and the definitive answer to this question is yes – high consumption of red meat is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. A meta-analysis of 29 studies of meat consumption and colon cancer concluded that consuming large amounts of red meat increases the risk of developing colon and or bowel cancer by 28%, and eating lots of processed meat increases the risk by as much as 20%. Australia Nutritionist Teresa Mitchell-Paterson says it all comes down the amount of red meat we are eating.
“It’s about how much red meat you’re consuming,” Mitchell-Paterson told The Huffington Post Australia. “If you’re consuming 500 grams of red meat or 500 grams of red meat combined with processed meat (bacon, salami, sausages, etc.) per week, that’s the amount we try to stay below.”
The primary reason red meat consumption is linked to colon cancer is due to the way it sits in the bowel wall. Experts have found that red and processed meats travel through the bowel slowly. The chemicals in the meat sit against the bowel wall and irritate it. This can cause an increase in inflammation, a quicker turnover of cells and the potential for cancer to develop in that area.
Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb and goat – so foods like hamburgers, minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb are included. Processed meat includes any meat that has undergone any type of chemical processing. This includes meat that has been smoked, cured, and salted such as hot dogs, sausages, salami, bologna, bratwurst, bacon, salt pork, cold cuts and lunch meat, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, smoked fish, corned beef, and jerky. It turns out that when processed, cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals are created in meat and these chemicals, when eaten, increase the risk of colon cancer.
Below are a few simple tips that can drastically lower your risk for developing this type of cancer:
- Limit red meat consumption to 500 grams or less per serving and eat no more than two to three servings per week. A good way to measure is by using the palm of your hand as a guide. The serving of meat should be no larger than your palm and 3-4 cms in thickness.
- Watch how the meat is cooked. Avoid eating meat that has been burnt or charred. Burnt meat releases polycyclic aromatic, hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines and N-nitroso compounds, which are dangerous compounds and can wreak havoc on your colon.
- Combining resistant starch with meat consumption may lower the cancer risk. Eating foods such as beans, legumes, cold potato, banana, whole grains and seeds along with the meat reduces the contact time against the bowel wall and lowers the overall risk.
Consume More Oily Fish
A great way to help prevent or at least lower your risk of developing colon cancer is by eating more oily fish – or better yet, replacing red meat with oily fish. A recent study revealed a pretty profound result in people who had already developed colon cancer. When the patients in the study consumed small amounts of fish containing omega 3 fatty acids, they cut their chances of dying from cancer by 70 percent. Researchers believe that omega-3 can suppress tumor growth and block blood supply to cancer cells.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids include “oily fish” such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and bluefish. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week, particularly those that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. There are many reasons researchers believe omega-3s assist in fighting cancer. For example, they may reduce the production of enzymes that promote cancer cell growth, speed up the rate at which cancer cell death occurs and suppress the formation of new blood vessels required for cancer cells to grow. The most simple explanation is that the oil from the fish helps to provide a coating on the colon walls and allow foods to pass through the colon more quickly as opposed to just sitting in the walls causing inflammation.
Becoming aware of how to prevent colon cancer is the first step in prevention. Making these very simple changes in your diet can drastically improve your health. Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”