Doctor’s Tip: How to prevent and survive colorectal cancer
June 11, 2018
About 50,000 Americans die every year from colon cancer, but in some parts of the world it's extremely rare. The lining of the colon, with its bumps and folds, has a large surface area that comes in contact with the food we eat. It's not surprising, then, that what we eat has a strong influence on our risk for colon cancer.
The earliest stage of colon cancer is clusters of abnormal cells lining the colon. The second stage is polyps — small growths that protrude from the lining. The final stage occurs when benign polyps, that are initially benign, slowly become malignant. Eventually, colon cancer extends through the wall of the colon and spreads (metastasizes) throughout the body. Early detection methods such as colonoscopy should be discussed with your primary provider before you turn 50 (some authorities are now saying 45) or earlier if you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer.
What a lot of people, including many health-care providers, don't know is that for the most part, colon cancer can be prevented.* Following are some suggestions from Dr. Michael Greger's book "How Not to Die" and his website nutritionfacts.org. Another good source of information is "The Cancer Survivor's Guide by Neal Barnard, M.D.
• Eat 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoonfuls of turmeric a day, available in bulk at Vitamin Cottage. Turmeric in curry is thought to contribute to the low rate of colon cancer in India. When turmeric is added to cancer cells in the lab, they stop multiplying. When turmeric comes in contact with the lining of the colon, it prevents abnormal cells from forming, and if abnormal cells are already present they revert to normal. Familial polyposis is a genetic disease in which family members develop multiple colon polyps, often resulting in colon cancer. When people with this condition are given daily turmeric, the number and size of polyps decreases by half. Even advanced colon cancer resistant to chemotherapy and radiation regressed with oral or rectal (via enema) turmeric in one study. Curcumin, a component of turmeric available in supplement form, is not as effective as unprocessed turmeric.
• Eat foods containing quercetin, another plant nutrient that has been shown to decrease colon polyps and risk for colon cancer. Quercetin is found in such fruits and vegetables as grapes and red onions.
• Eat foods that contain phytates — another cancer-preventing plant nutrient, found in green, leafy vegetables; legumes (beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils); whole grains; and nuts and seeds.
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• Eat high-fiber food. Fiber, which is present in plant but not animal products, helps prevent colon cancer, in part due to decreasing stool transit time — the time it takes for food to go through the intestinal tract. For example, food goes through men eating plant-based diets in a day or two, but takes five or more days in men eating a conventional diet.
• Avoid meat, including poultry and seafood, because they increase the risk of colon cancer, partly because these foods contain heme iron (plants contain non-heme iron). Heme iron causes free radicals that contribute to inflammation and to cancer. A six-year study of 30,000 people in California showed that the risk of colon cancer doubled in those who ate red meat at least once a week and tripled in those who ate chicken or fish at least once a week.
• "Eat the rainbow," because foods with intense color are loaded with antioxidants, which help prevent many health problems, including cancer. Daily intake of black raspberries for nine months reduced the number of polyps by half in patients with familial colon polyps.
*You'd think that nutritional information like this would be taught in medical schools, but it wasn't when I attended the University of Colorado School of Medicine in the 1960s. Recently I was at my 50th medical school reunion in Denver and talked to several students from the class of 2018, and was disappointed to find that none of them said they had any courses about the power of unhealthy food to cause disease or of healthy food to prevent and cure disease. Unfortunately, medical school is still all about pills and procedures and the latest technology.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues, and to help people with hospital or other medical bills they don't understand or think are too high. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.