Updated: Jul 31, 2021
I know, I know. This is no one’s favorite topic, but it’s one that you can, in large part, control.
Are you between the ages of 45 and 75?
If so, you already get your colon checked every 5 or 10 years.
If not, the most important colonoscopy is your first one!
This diagnostic tool is incredibly helpful and sadly, some people have a higher risk of making polyps, and you would definitely want to know that at a younger age. Unfortunately, there’s an increased rate of colorectal cancer among younger adults, and is now the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Our diet and lifestyle have contributed to more cancers and chronic diseases.
Here’s a dive into gut health and we’ll start with polyps.
What are Polyps?
Polyps are growths that occur in the inside of your intestines and come in all sorts of different shapes and types - from adenomas to hyperplastic polyps which influences how risky the polyp is in terms of it turning into colon cancer. A percentage of these polyps can become cancerous and cause colorectal cancer. Polyps CAN be avoided by changing our diet and lifestyle.
1. Constipation - the longer the stool is in contact with the cells in the colon, the more likely those toxins within the stool are able to damage the cell lining of the colon and trigger the inflammation or the start of cancer production.
2. Potassium Nitrate - This compound is commonly used in food processing. It is used as a color fixative and to cure hams, bacon, corned beef, and some fish products providing a longer shelf life. Research has proven that nitrites when combined with stomach saliva and food components produce nitrosamines, powerful cancer producing substances. It has been a recent development to encourage a block on this conversion by the use of antioxidants such as vitamin C and E to such a degree that the US Food and Drug Administration has advised food manufacturers to add these vitamins where this chemical process has been used.
Food Sources of Potassium Nitrite:
Cured meats, bacon, bologna, frankfurters, hotdogs, deviled ham, meat spreads, potted meats, spiced ham, Vienna sausages, smoke-cured tuna, and smoke-cured salmon.
3. Burned grilled meat. Heterocyclic amines in the charred meat is a big cause of cancer.
Biohack: marinate your meat in a vinegar or lemon or lime and add a lot of spices
4. Excess weight - especially in the belly as this fat increases inflammation in the body.
5. Sedentary lifestyle - lack of physical exercise increases our risk of colorectal cancer.
Exercise improves the transit time, it helps the food move more quickly through the bowels.
6. Smoking cigarettes increases risk of colorectal cancer.
7. Excess sugar and starch - they increase inflammation everywhere in your body - especially your colon.
8. Processed foods that have been treated with antibiotics or meats grown with antibiotics.
How do we prevent these abnormal growths from occurring - especially the ones that can become dysplastic or cause cancer in the body?
The 6 million $ question:
How do we create a terrain where cancer is less likely to grow?
Follow a "diet" rich in the following:
1. Water - ½ your body weight in ounces per day.
2. Grass fed animal protein - the healthiest form possible
3. Vegetable protein such as beans and legumes
4. Probiotics found in cultured and fermented foods as well as in supplements. Lactobacillus has antitumor properties, modulates immunity, and lowers inflammation by inhibiting the bad bugs from growing which help the gut barrier function.
5. Omega-3 fats found in oily fish and nuts and seeds, such as ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp hearts.
6. 8 to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables per day as they contain phytonutrients and Vitamin C.
7. Pomegranate, cranberry and grapes - they feed the good healthy bacteria in the gut called Akkermansia municiphilia which can lower inflammation in your gut.
8. Broccoli - The broccoli family helps us to activate the genes and suppress cancer. It activates our detoxification system and reduces inflammation.
9. Green tea has antioxidant capacity and the ability to epigenetically suppress or epigenetically increase tumor suppressor genes therefore increasing glutathione production which can decrease the risk of cancer.
10. Curcumin - the phytonutrient in turmeric has been shown to cause less polyp production in mice.
11. Fiber - A diet high in fiber has been associated with a decreased risk of colon and colorectal cancer.
There’s a particular compound in the gut that’s so important for overall gut health - butyrate which is produced in your gut when you eat fiber.
Butyrate is what we call a short chain fatty acid which is essentially the fuel for the intestinal tract. This is basically a symbiotic relation with bacteria where you’re feeding them and then they’re producing fuel for you.
High concentrations of butyrate turns on the tumor suppressor gene. It literally shuts off the genes that cause cancer. We can modify our microbiome and increase these short chain fatty acids by providing the raw materials it needs.
When you have more butyrate, a postbiotic, (which gets produced when our good bacteria consume prebiotics fiber), we make butyrate which is so critical for healing the lining of the epithelium, (the lining of the intestines), so that cancer is less likely to grow. We know that butyrate can lower inflammation in the intestines and can help improve the barrier function and improve the immune system within the intestines.
Fiber also adds weight to your bowel movement.
Why does this matter?
Cultures that eat a high fiber diet have heavier stools - upwards of two pounds of poo a day, whereas most Americans produce stool that only weighs four ounces.
Isn't that crazy?
Q: What are those people doing who have the larger stools?
A: They’re eating lots more fiber which helps to pull toxins out of the gut.
Take away: Along with constipation, fiber prevents carcinogens from spending as much time touching the wall of the intestine and causing those shifts or changes in the cells that can cause cancer.
What about meat?
Q: Is meat consumption inherently bad for your gut?
A: The resounding answer is “no.”
However, that’s not to say that eating meat is a free ride.
Q: What is bad about meats that we are consuming?
A: Processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats that contain potassium nitrite may contribute to colorectal cancer, so avoid these meats and focus on grass-fed meats instead.
If you have concerns about your colon health, definitely have a conversation with your primary care provider and definitely get your regularly scheduled colonoscopies.
If you have a history of colon or colorectal cancer in your family - your doctor will recommend a colonoscopy every 5 years. If you don’t have any family history, ten year intervals should be fine.
If you have additional concerns or questions about your colon health, you could follow up with any of these tests which may be covered by your insurance (call your insurance company to confirm):
1. DNA test called “Cologuard” that checks markers of colon cancer - https://www.cologuard.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjwq7aGBhADEiwA6uGZpw6TNkxljxUAjx9-hBd4wVDvFxaldHKBy6dYSOrw7IF_6ASSYoHQbxoCfa0QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
2. Blood test - C-reactive protein. This is a marker for inflammation anywhere in your body which can indicate infection or a chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, as well as risk of heart disease.
**. Your PCP should include this in your annual blood workup.
3. GI-MAP DNA stool test - checks inflammatory markers in the stool. This is one of the tests that I use with my patients and clients.
Unlike other comprehensive stool tests on the market, the GI-MAP provides quantitative results. qPCR offers a much more accurate way to detect and quantify clinically-relevant organisms than standard PCR, culture, microscopy, or DNA sequencing-based methods.
Accurately assessing how much of an organism's DNA is present in your stool sample is essential for helping me determine the clinical significance of pathogenic organisms and dysbiosis patterns.
The GI-MAP's accuracy and reliability allows me to create a personalized treatment protocol to address gut dysfunction based on which infections are urgent, which areas of the gut are already optimized, and which areas should be addressed after an infection is resolved.
Some conditions that warrant testing are:
Digestive complaints, diarrhea or constipation
Skin problems, like acne and psoriasis
Mood disorders, depression, and anxiety
Diabetes and weight loss issues
Having good regular (aka DAILY) bowel movements is really critical.
Improve your BM’s with butyrate, in the form of a supplement or by adding more fiber to your diet - such as ground flax seeds, chia seeds, dark leafy greens, etc. This is key to preventing polyps and improving the health of your intestines!
Lower the toxin levels in your body by eating a more nutrient-dense diet and avoiding toxins.
Pay attention to your gut microbiome - feed it and test it if you need more information.
Reach out for help from a trained practitioner in GI health and wellness.
We’re beginning to understand how our diet is driving disease, and I think that speaks to the importance of diet in regulating what happens in the gut.