Nutritional Remedies for Colon Cancer
The colon, or large intestine, is the part of the digestive system that connects the small intestine to the rectum, a short chamber that leads to the outer opening, or the anus. The colon is a specialized organ that processes waste from digestion by removing water from stool and storing the solid stool. It empties its contents once or twice a day, into the rectum, in the process of waste elimination. Colon cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in the colon, and when the rectum is involved, it is called colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common type of cancer in both men and women in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2014, more than 96,000 new cases of colon cancer and 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed. Research shows that the risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 5%, although it is slightly lower among women.
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd leading cause of deaths from cancer among men in the US, but the 2nd leading cause when men and women are combined. Experts estimate that it may cause more than 50,000 deaths in 2014. These numbers may be due to the fact that colorectal cancer is a silent disease, because signs and symptoms do not develop until the later stages of the disease. Fortunately, however, cancers of the colon and rectum are highly preventable.
Causes and Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer
Anyone can develop colorectal cancer, but it is most common among individuals over the age of 50. The exact cause is not known, but certain risk factors have been linked to this condition, including:
- A personal/family history of colorectal polyps or cancer
- Eating a diet high in red meat and processed meat, fatty foods, and foods cooked in high temperatures
- History of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- Having inherited conditions such as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or familial adenomatous polyposis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy alcohol use
- Heavy chemical exposure (such as chlorine and asbestos)
How to Prevent Colon Cancer
Fortunately, Cancers of the colon and rectum are high preventable. Studies show that screening for cancer and conditions that increase one’s risk for cancer (pre-cancer) can help prevent the disease. For example, it has been found that people who develop benign (non-cancerous) intestinal new growths, or polyps in the large intestine, have a higher risk of developing the disease than those who do not have them. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment of this condition may help prevent the development of cancer in the colon and rectum. For people who do not have polyps, but have other risk factors, such as a family history of colon cancer, screening after age 50 is recommended, since most people start to develop the disease around this age. Screening tests include rectal exam, stool exam (occult blood test), and flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Aside from cancer screening, there are many ways to reduce one’s risk of developing colon cancer. Most of the risk factors leading to cancer involve behavioral and lifestyle factors, which may easily be modified by adapting a healthy way of living. These include:
- Being more physically active with regular exercise
- Reducing excess weight
- Not smoking
- Drinking alcohol moderately
- Treating other conditions, such as intestinal polyps, diabetes, and others
- Avoiding exposure to radiation and dangerous chemicals
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and whole grains.
- Avoiding red meats, processed foods, high-fat and sugary foods.
Health Supplements for Colon Cancer
Some studies suggest that taking certain health supplements can help prevent some forms of cancer, including colorectal cancer. For example several studies have found that people who have higher levels of vitamin D are less likely to develop breast, pancreatic and colorectal cancer. Vitamin D is also called the sunshine vitamin, because it is manufactured in the skin when it is exposed to enough sunlight. However, experts do not recommend long exposure to the sun because of the dangers of developing skin cancer. On the other hand, many people, especially elderly individuals and those who live in places that do not get enough sunlight, are deficient in vitamin D. Since it is not abundantly found in foods, except those that are fortified with vitamins, some experts suggest taking daily supplements to obtain its benefits. These include protection against infection, weak bones (osteoporosis) and chronic diseases, such as cancer.
Other health supplements that can help prevent colon cancer include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, walnuts, flax seed, flax seed oil, and canola oil.
- Multivitamins with 100% of each vitamin and mineral recommended for the day.
- Calcium, which is also found in dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, fortified cereals, tofu, soy milk, sardines, collard greens
- Folate or folic acid, which is also found in beans, asparagus, spinach, and broccoli
- Fiber supplements
Remedies for Colon Cancer
The treatment of colon cancer often involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which could have side effects. These may include dehydration, malabsorption of nutrients, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Natural remedies for these symptoms include:
- Taking caffeine-free and alcohol-free drinks, sports drinks with electrolytes, and liquid supplements
- Taking a regular multivitamin supplement to treat nutritional deficiencies
- Taking clear liquids and bland food such as baked chicken, crackers, buttered noodles, etc. to reduce nausea and vomiting
- Eating small, frequent meals, consisting of high-calories and high-protein foods
- Drinking clear liquids and eating low fiber, low fat foods, avoiding greasy foods, raw fruits and vegetables, caffeine, and strong spices to alleviate diarrhea
- Eating slowly, using a straw or drinking out of a glass instead of bottles, avoiding cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, dairy products, eggs, beans, garlic, and onions, to alleviate gas and bloating
- For patients undergoing chemotherapy, eating soft foods, drinking with a straw, avoiding hot or spicy food and drinks can help alleviate sore mouth and throat
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. What is Colorectal Cancer? http://www.webmd.com/colorectal-cancer/guide/what-is-colorectal-cancer
ACS. Colorectal Cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-key-statistics
Johns Hopkins. Nutrition and Colon Cancer. http://hopkinscoloncancercenter.org/CMS/CMS_Page.aspx?CurrentUDV=59&CMS_Page_ID=8345F49E-9814-467C-B7F3-A68FC4C6FE96
ACS. Can colorectal cancer be prevented? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-prevention
NIH. Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/vitamin-D