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Nutrition Essentials and Colon Cancer Prevention

It has been said that “we are as healthy as our colon”, and this is not far from the truth. The importance of our bowel function to health and well-being is clear when you consider the emerging research on the importance of our microflora (good bacteria), the so-called “second brain”, referring to the vast nervous system located in the gut and how over 80% of our immune system surrounds our intestines. We should also not overlook the fact that the digestive system is the primary route of elimination for metabolic waste and excreted toxins.

This article won’t go into the many facts about colon cancer diagnosis or treatment protocols. It’s worth mentioning that colon cancer rarely occurs in people younger than 40, so a healthy diet and lifestyle early in life has a strong protective effect. It will give you a quick overview of the key dietary and nutritional factors that reduce colon cancer risk. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Folate is important for DNA synthesis and repair, and plays a key role in recycling the amino acid homocysteine into non-toxic forms. This process is called methylation and has a strong role in silencing cancerous genes. Numerous studies have shown that folic acid supplementation dramatically reduces colon cancer risk by up to 75%.
Dietary sources: Natural sources of folate include dark green vegetables, avocados, oranges, and more. However, synthetic folic acid is better absorbed than natural folate, therefore most cereals are now fortified with synthetic folic acid. Since the folic acid studies also looked at multivitamin use, it would also be prudent to use a high quality multi (three to six caps per day) along with folic acid, or better yet, get a multi that contains L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate. L-5-MTHF is the activated, coenzyme form of folate used in the body, and is better absorbed and used than both natural folate and regular synthetic folic acid.

Calcium and vitamin D: Just like for bone health, these two factors have strong synergy when taken together. Studies show that 1200 mg of calcium plus vitamin D reduce colon cancer risk. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium from the gut and also balances the immune system to fight infections and cancer cells.
Dietary sources: Other than dairy products, dark green leafy veggies, seeds, and nuts such as almonds are rich in calcium. Unfortunately there really isn’t a good dietary source of vitamin D other than cod liver oil and some fish. I recommend supplementing with extra vitamin D to bring your levels into the protective range of 100-150 nmol/L. As a point of reference, over 50% Canadians have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D.

Selenium is a key, but often deficient, mineral that is an important co-factor in producing glutathione which is the body’s master antioxidant involved in protecting the cells from DNA damage which leads to cancer. Scientists have found a connection between low soil concentrations of selenium and increased rates of colorectal cancer, and restoring selenium back to optimal levels reduced colon cancer risk. A hair mineral analysis is a reliable way to test your selenium levels to see if you need to supplement.
Dietary sources: Brazil nuts are the best natural source of selenium with studies showing you only need a few nuts per day to achieve the same as supplemental levels. If nuts are not your thing, using a selenium supplement (in the form selenomethionine, 50-200 mcg/day) is the best strategy to get your levels up.

Fibre is often overlooked but is one of the most important factors in good health. It binds toxins, fats, and hormones from the colon and helps eliminate them. It promotes healthy stool movement and size, both of which are markers of proper elimination, and have been associated with lower colon cancer risk. Fibre is also a fuel source for good bacteria (probiotics) and maintains a healthy intestinal acid-alkaline balance (your colon pH should be acidic and cells should be alkaline).
Dietary sources: The best way to get fibre is through plant sources such as fruits and vegetables. The evidence is clear that a diet high in unprocessed plants (high fibre foods) and lower in processed foods and red meats (low fibre foods) is protective against colon cancer.

Anti-inflammatory spices and herbs: Scientists have known the connection between inflammation and colon cancer ever since low dose aspirin use was shown to reduce colon cancer risk. There are many herbs and spices you can consume in your diet that are also potent anti-inflammatory agents. While the list is long, ginger, green tea and curcumin are worth mentioning since they are readily available on grocery store shelves and can be easily incorporated into your diet. All three of these substances have research (some test tube, some clinical) showing they powerfully reduce inflammation and the growth of colon cancer cells. There are many others (garlic, resveratrol, broccoli extract, etc.), so try consume as many whole food vegetables as possible to increase your exposure to these powerful herbal compounds.
Dietary sources: Use ginger and turmeric in your cooking and drink up to 10 cups of green tea daily. For extra protection use a lipid-soluble curcumin extract (the active component in turmeric) since it is much better absorbed than turmeric root extract. It’s also important to note that omega 3 oils are powerful anti-inflammatories and should be consumed in wild fish, flaxseed oil, hemp seed, grass-fed meats and wild game.


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Dr. Paul Hrkal

About The Author

Dr. Paul Hrkal is a board-certified Naturopathic doctor with a passion to apply innovative and evidence-based nutritional, biological, and supplemental interventions to address underlying metabolic, endocrine and immunological dysfunctions. He is strong advocate of integrative medical education frequently writing and lecturing to both healthcare practitioners and public audiences. He also is the medical director for Advanced Orthomolecular Research, a leading Canadian natural health product company, and maintains a clinical practice in the Toronto area.

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