Observations on Colon Cancer
By Stephen Holt, MD, Scientific Advisor, Natures Benefit Inc. Contact: [email protected]
Colon cancer is a common, devastating disease that is preventable, at least in part. Any significant change of bowel habit in a patient over the age of 40 years should be taken as a sign to take action to rule out colon cancer, given the knowledge that there are approximately 140,000 new cases of colon cancer diagnosed on an annual basis. Modern colon cancer prevention has focused on the detection of blood in the stool, which may not be visible, and the use of screening with advanced imaging techniques or endoscopy (sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy).
While many cancers of the colon affect the lower reaches of the bowel (left side of the colon), there is evidence that cancer of the right side of the colon is increasing in occurrence. The real importance of screening for colon cancer is the clear knowledge that early detection of colon cancer or removal of colon polyps that are pre-malignant can result in improved outcome and cure. This approach is the fundamental cornerstone of secondary prevention of disease, where early diagnosis and intervention makes a real difference in clinical outcome. Conventional medicine has shown us the correct approach to colon cancer, but primary prevention is often forgotten.
I am convinced that nutrition plays a major role in colon cancer causation and prevention. A diet that is low in saturated fat, more enriched with omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), restricted in simple carbohydrates, moderate in animal protein, and high in fiber is the optimal diet for colon health and cancer prevention. It is notable that this dietary approach is good for all chronic diseases, including heart health and general wellbeing.
I believe that the colon is an organ of fermentation where friendly bacteria control a healthy environment. This underscores the importance of probiotic therapy with friendly bacteria such as Lactobacilli spp. and Bifidobacteria spp., etc. I believe that many physicians and nutritionists underestimate the power of antioxidants present in the digesta (complex contents of the digestive tract). Increased fruit and vegetable intake as a primary dietary maneuver will increase antioxidant load in the colon and I believe strongly in the use of berry concentrates, green foods, and multiple antioxidants found in dietary supplements such as green tea concentrate and mixed antioxidant supplements. Many individuals use antioxidant supplements in an incorrect manner. Single antioxidants should not be used alone and antioxidants should be selected for actions over a REDOX (oxygen-reduction) range with access to fat and water-loving tissues, ensuring maximum distribution throughout the body of the antioxidant benefits.
I have discussed natural pathways to healthy digestive function in my book “Natural Ways to Digestive Health” (M Evans Publishers Inc., NY, 2000). My concepts of digestive balance include gentle colon cleansing by maintenance of bowel regularity with dietary fiber primarily, or by intermittent natural colon cleansing with herbs or osmotic laxatives. These are laxatives that function by gently causing the retention of water in the bowel. Use – or even abuse – of more potent laxatives on a regular basis can damage the bowel.
In addition, I support the idea of detoxification of the body using cleansing herbs such as Milk Thistle that may support the body purifying power of liver function. The digestive tract is exposed to chronic insults by food additives or the elaboration of toxic end products of digestive contents by unfriendly bacteria or other unwanted chemical reactions. One of the major factors in the damaging of the gastrointestinal tract in all people is the excessive use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). These drugs are commonly used for pain control of arthritis and they cause breaches in the lining of the upper and lower digestive tract and can precipitate “leaky gut” syndrome. While these digestive problems may not precipitate cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, many factors may change bowel habit in a manner that produces “red flag symptoms”. For example, NSAID are the most common cause of gastrointestinal bleeding, from both the upper and lower digestive tract, sometimes in a manner that may be life-threatening.
Gastroenterologists have had to argue with the government to provide clear funding for colon cancer prevention, and great strides have been made in addressing the important public health initiative of colon cancer prevention and treatment. There is a tendency in natural medicine for individuals to self medicate for changes in bowel habit. Any persistent change in bowel habit must be taken quite seriously and medical advice should be sought in mature people.
There are certain risk factors for colon cancer, which include but are not limited to: a family history, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, colon polyps, and certain dietary patterns. Colon cancer seems to be associated with the modern epidemic of Syndrome X, where obesity, high blood cholesterol, and high blood pressure are linked by insulin resistance in a constellation of problems that effects up to 70 million Americans. Colon cancer is a devastating disorder for which much preventive healthcare must be applied.
Resource: Holt, S Natural Ways to Digestive Health, M Evans Publishers, NY, 2000).