Colon cancer is considered to be the second leading cause of cancer deaths. In Europe and US alone, an estimated 180,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. Likewise, it is the second most common cancer among men and women in America. In fact, 15,253 new cases were recorded in 2014 alone. The following year, 4324 deaths were caused by bowel cancer.
According to Doctor John McDougall, colon cancer is a life-threatening condition that is primarily caused by consumption of a high-fat, dairy, and meat diet which include poultry and fish. It can also be caused by a diet low in fruits and vegetables. Dr. McDougall is a renowned physician and author of several diet books that focus on the benefits of a low-fat, whole foods plant-based diet rich in starchy foods vegetables.
Statistics show that men have a slightly higher chance of developing colon cancer than women. People who are over 50 years old have a 5% chance of developing the disease and 2.5% chance of dying from it. Results of autopsy studies have revealed that around 35% of people who are consuming Western diets actually have polyps in their colon.
Also called adenomas, colon polyps have the potential to develop into colon cancer; they often precede colon cancer and when left undetected, may develop into an invasive type of cancer. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what colon polyps are.
Polyp Formation Explained
According to Dr. McDougall, polyps form when the mucous membrane tissues are irritated for a long period of time. Think of a callus in your hand. It formed due to the irritation caused by abrasion from hard physical work. When irritated, your body responds by creating layers of protective keratin which is what we see now as callus. Internally, when the intestinal membranes are continuously triggered over a long period of time, it will create protective mounds of tissues which are called polyps.
The question is, what triggers those membranes? Of course, it’s the food we ingest! The stronger and longer the irritation is, the larger the polyps will be. Eventually, it may result in cell division which exposes our DNA to carcinogenic substances found in the bowel. In effect, cancer may start to form. The larger the polyp is, the higher is the risk of developing into cancer. Polyps that are 5mm in size are less likely to be cancerous. Meanwhile, polyps that measure at least 10mm have a 1% of being cancerous, while those that are at least 20mm have 17% chance of being diagnosed as cancer.
It is claimed that around 75% of those who were diagnosed with colon cancer showed no predisposing characteristics. However, their diet was a typical Western one, primarily composed of beef fat, fish, and poultry. They consumed less of whole plant foods. Highly processed foods as well as sugar, bread, white bread, refined grains, polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and dairy products were also major contributors to the development of colon cancer.
Family history and inflammatory bowel diseases are also some of the factors that should be taken into consideration. Some people think that we inherit cancer from our parents or nearest kin. However, in reality, only 1-3% of this serious condition is actually genetic. More often than not, the condition is triggered by our lifestyle choices and food preferences. Our daily lifestyle choices are actually the stimuli that trigger the onset, growth, and spread of cancer cells in the body. As another leading plant-based doctor, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has said, “Genetics loads the gun; lifestyle pulls the trigger.”
How Does Our Diet Affect Cancer Development?
Dr. McDougall claims that the development of colon cancer and polyp diseases maybe affected by the contents of our colon. Our diet has a significant effect on different stages of disease development – from the start of cancer cell proliferation to the terminal stages of cancer. It is worth noting that fats from vegetables and meats increase one’s risk for cancer and polyps. A high-fat diet can boost bile acid production which is later converted by the intestinal bacteria into substances that cause cancer. Furthermore, margarines and other shortenings, which are often present in packaged foods, can promote cancer.
The Benefits of a High-Fibre Diet
Plant foods are excellent sources of fibre which help in preventing cancer. Fibre mixes with cancerous substances, thereby reducing their chances of reaching the colon and other parts of the body. It plays an important role in removing and flushing out carcinogens, pharmaceutical drugs, cholesterol, testosterone, excess estrogen, and toxic substances. When in sufficient quantities, fibre moves quickly in the colon, along with the carcinogens, such as those found in dairy and meat products. This results in the carcinogenic compounds having less direct contact with the colon walls, and, thus, causing less damage to the lining of the intestine. This is the exact reason people who are on a high-fibre diet are less prone to colon cancer.
In most cases, when foods are processed into packaged goods, their fibre content is removed or greatly reduced. Eating a diet high in processed foods, which many people in Western countries do, increases the incidence of colon cancer for this reason.
Fiber also prevents cancer cell growth when it ferments into butyric acid. A typical daily American diet which is mostly comprised of animal meat, sugary drinks, oil, and refined food only provides 8-14 grams of fibre. However, a whole food plant-based diet gives 40-100 grams of fibre a day. Bumping up your fibre intake by 13 grams can reduce your susceptibility to cancer by a staggering 31%. According to Dr. Neal Barnard, consumption of a high-fiber diet for six months can reduce the size and number of polyps in the colon. Dr. Barnard is the founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and a strong advocate for the benefits of plant-based eating.
Animal Products Trigger Tumour Formation
Some animal experiments revealed that protein, cholesterol and animal fats are among the culprits behind the formation of cancer. Note that fish and chicken are no exemption. They are also associated with colon cancer. A high concentration of amino acids in fish, poultry, and red meat contains hydrogen sulfite-producing sulfur which can impair mucous production and cellular metabolism.
Friendly Bacteria Provide Protection
Our intestines contain trillions of bacteria which is known as the intestinal microflora. They perform a number of vital functions that are beneficial for the gut and the whole body. Studies have shown that when good or friendly bacteria are added to the diets of animals, their risk of developing colon cancer significantly reduced. Friendly bacteria are responsible for the deactivation of chemicals that cause colon cancer. Additionally, they eradicate and replace unfriendly bacteria that only produce cancer-causing chemicals.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the kind of bacteria dwelling on our gut depends on the kinds of food we eat. Perhaps some of your favorites belong to the group which only encourage the growth of cancer cells. What are they? Poultry, fish, meat, and dairy products. Surprisingly, one study found out that increased yogurt intake is associated with a higher risk of developing precancerous polyps that are relatively large. But if you focus on vegetables, fruits, and starches, friendly bacteria thrive well.
Can Diet Help After Polyps Begin?
“It’s not in our family history, but how come I have this horrifying and life-threatening condition?” This is one of the most common questions cancer patients have. The culprit? It could be our food choices. A typical American diet promotes cancer progression, while those who are into whole-food and plant-based diets get essential phytonutrients that provide ample protection against cancer. Perhaps you’ve now realised that every type of food we eat can discourage or encourage the growth and proliferation of cancer cells in our body. As Dr. Heather Morgan says, “Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it”.
Dr. McDougall claims that even if the polyps are surgically removed, they can still come back and continue to grow as long as you continue to succumb to any unhealthy diet, especially the rich Western one. Therefore, it’s worth saying that replacing your Western diet with an unprocessed, low-fat, and plant-based diet will really make a giant leap towards health and wellness.
For people who have been diagnosed with colon cancer, Dr. McDougall highly urges them to consider changing their diet as part of their treatment program. Animal studies have revealed that a high-fat and high cholesterol diet doesn’t just promote cancer in the colon; it can also trigger the growth of cancer cells in other parts of body. A healthy diet can help prolong your survival and can even slow down the progress of your disease.
You want to prevent polyps from coming back? Then you should learn to get rid of things that help them thrive and grow. By consuming no-cholesterol and low-fat diets, you’re not just reducing the carcinogens released into your digestive tract, but you’re also increasing the amount of fibre which dilute remaining toxic substances. From now on, you should consider adding more Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, broccoli, and other leafy greens as they can trigger the secretion of enzymes that deactivate carcinogens.
Our diet plays a crucial role in the development of colon cancer in all stages. But it all starts by preventing irritation in the intestinal membranes that only result in polyp formation. By consuming a healthier diet, you slow down the growth and even the transition of polyps into cancer. So far, lack of fruits, vegetables and fibre, as well as high intake of meat and fats, are considered to be major culprits. Other factors include alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, sleep deprivation, and lack of physical activity
It’s always worth noting that the benefits we can get from nutritional therapy are directly proportional to the dietary changes we’ve made. When you aren’t serious enough in making these changes, you cannot really expect significant protection and other benefits.
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