ESTIMATED READING TIME 4 MINUTES
Around 43,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year. Although it’s sometimes thought of as an older person’s disease, early onset bowel cancer is increasing, with almost two and a half thousand people under the age of fifty diagnosed with the disease every year. Some estimates suggest it could increase by over 90% in the under 34’s in the next seven years.
The World Cancer Research Fund estimates over 60% of all cases of bowel cancers can be directly attributed to diet and lifestyle factors.
In support of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, read on to discover how you can reduce your risk of developing the disease, particularly by paying attention to the collection of bacteria living in your gut, known as your microbiome.
Bowel cancer is otherwise known as colorectal cancer, and it affects the colon and the rectum. Your colon is towards the end of your gastrointestinal tract. It’s involved with the final stage of digestion, where water and salts are absorbed from the residue of food you’ve eaten. Your rectum is where your poo is stored before you go to the toilet.
Early signs of bowel cancer include blood in your poo, changes in bowel habits, fatigue, weight loss or pain in your tummy.
Your colon is susceptible to influences from the outside world because its lining is in close proximity to the food you eat. Those unwanted or harmful substances your body doesn’t want to be absorbed into your bloodstream all come into contact with the cells lining your colon.
Added to this, your body produces many chemicals, some toxic, when it manufactures energy. These need to be expelled via your bowel.
Ideally, the contents of your colon pass along at a steady rate. What often happens, though, is they move along too slowly. Stools become hard and difficult to pass, and they remain in contact with the bowel wall for longer than they should. It’s not a good idea for this toxic bundle to sit around for too long directly next to the cells of the bowel or rectum lining, because these cells can then be damaged by toxins in the faeces.
The bowel wall should be healthy and smooth, but if it becomes damaged and inflamed, polyps can form. These are growths jutting out from the bowel wall. If polyps are present, bowel cancer is more likely to occur.
The microbiome is the term for the collection of bacteria resident in your gut. The types and proportions of bacteria in your microbiome are unique to you. Some species of bacteria are prone to releasing substances increasing inflammation, while others discourage inflammation.
Scientists have found the bacteria living in the guts of people affected by bowel cancer are significantly different to those of healthy people, with bacterial species causing inflammation more common 1. This inflammation damages the cells lining the bowel wall.
Certain types of bacteria also disrupt the immune system, making it more likely rogue cancer cells can grow. Meanwhile, your gut bacteria differ in how they react to food. Some produce harmful chemicals when certain foods are eaten, such as processed meat. These substances can damage cells’ DNA.
A sluggish digestive system with food sitting around in the gut provides an ideal medium for harmful bacteria to flourish. At the same time, a combination of obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, low nutrient diet and environmental toxins all impact the gut microbiome, making it more likely it will increase chronic inflammation in the body and upset the functioning of the immune system. It’s no surprise, then, that these lifestyle factors are linked to bowel cancer.
The good news is because bowel cancer is so closely connected with lifestyle, you can reduce your risk.
One simple way you can nurture your microbiome is to feast on a wide variety of vegetables. They contain plenty of fibre, the natural food for healthy gut bacteria. This will create a healthy environment in your bowel, reducing the likelihood of damage to cells’ DNA.
Functional medicine delves deeply into the causes of disease and looks at what is happening in your body. You are an individual and the causes of your ill health will be unique, too. Functional tests can examine the types of bacteria living in your microbiome. I will then recommend diet and lifestyle measures to improve the health of your gut bacteria and protect the cells of your bowel from damage.
If cancer does develop, I can work with you to support your body alongside any conventional cancer treatment.
The road to optimal health is easier with support, and I will be with you every step of the way. Contact me today to start your journey to better bowel health.
Would you like natural support for your bowel? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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