Bowel cancer: Dr Hilary outlines the main symptoms
According to research, more than half of bowel cancer cases in the UK could be preventable.
Despite this it is one of the most prevalent and deadly forms of disease in the region, accounting for the fourth highest number of diagnoses and second highest number of deaths.
Diet is known to be a major factor when it comes to someone’s risk of developing bowel cancer, with experts warning that processed foods – especially meat – should be avoided.
However, certain foods can also actively lessen your risk of bowel cancer, which is also known as colorectal cancer.
A doctor spoke exclusively with Express.co.uk about the best foods to eat to minimise your chances of the disease.
Doctor Deborah Lee, from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, referenced the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, which was published in 2021.
“This aimed to investigate the relationship between diet, genetics, lifestyle and other environmental factors and cancer and other diseases,” she said.
As part of the study 519,978 participants from a range of European countries aged 35 to 70 took part. Their diet was assessed over 12 months, while height, weight and BMI were recorded, and blood samples were taken.
By verifying cancer diagnoses among participants, this study revealed six foods that had a “protective effect” on the development of bowel cancer:
- High-fibre foods
- Fruit and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- High-calcium foods
- Fermented foods.
“It’s a great source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which have strong anti-inflammatory properties and also play a key role in the immune system,” Dr Lee explained.
“Animal studies have shown that fish oil prevents the development of colorectal (bowel) cancer cells through various different pathways. The above study appears to show the same protective effect exists in humans.
“Fish high in omega-3 include salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod, herring, trout and tinned tuna. Current recommendations are to eat one portion of oily fish per week.”
She said: “We are all recommended 30g of fibre per day. Fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate.
“It bulks out the intestinal contents exerting pressure on the bowel wall ensuring the partially digested food moves along at the correct speed. Constipation increases the risk of bowel cancer.
“Bacteria in the colon feed on the fibre-producing butyrate which has a protective effect on the bowel wall.
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“You can do this by eating brown bread, rice and pasta, eating wholegrain cereals, leaving the skin on fruit and vegetables, and eating more pulses (lentils, beans and chickpeas). Eat more berries, avocado, sweet potato and nuts.”
Fruit and vegetables
“Fruit and veg are protective against cancer because they are rich in antioxidants,” she said. “Every day, all the cells of our bodies need energy for their cellular processes. This is called oxidation.
“As a by-product of the oxidation process, potentially harmful, electrically charged particles called reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced. These molecules have the ability to damage DNA which is the first step in the development of cancer cells.
“Antioxidants – which need to be obtained from the diet – neutralise ROS and prevent them from damaging DNA. Hence a diet rich in antioxidants is likely to help lower the risk of cancer.”
Nuts and seeds
She said: “Nuts have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are high in vitamin E- especially almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts.
“Brazil nuts are rich in selenium – and low selenium levels have been linked to bowel cancer. Nuts are high in fibre, so protect the bowel by assisting digestion and acting as a prebiotic.”
“Calcium has been shown to prevent colonic hyperproliferation (overgrowth of cells) and stimulate colonic apoptosis (the destruction of dead or damaged colon cells),” Dr Lee said.
“Some studies have shown a lower incidence of colonic polyps in those on calcium supplements. It’s not surprising that this study found high calcium foods offered protection against bowel cancer.”
She added: “Fermented foods contain large amounts of bacteria which work as probiotics – these bacteria are good for bowel health as they are actively interacting with nutrients to produce metabolites which then affect the immune system.
“Foods high in prebiotics include garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, whole oats and apples. Fermented foods include kombucha, yoghurt, matured/raw cheeses, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh and kimchi. Also, sourdough bread, apple cider vinegar and cottage cheese.”
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