Tips for maintaining colon health.
WRITTEN BY JESSICA SANTINA
There’s a reason why people tell you to trust your gut. Of the 100 trillion or so bacteria that call your body home, the vast majority take up residence in your gastrointestinal tract. And about 70 to 80 percent of the cells in your immune system are found here, too. It is where essential nutrients are absorbed and potentially harmful bacteria are detected and fought.
You trust your gut to keep you healthy, but without an optimal environment in which to do its job, you could face an array of health problems, some of them serious and even life threatening.
Feed your colon
“I don’t think a colon diet is that much different from a diet for good general health,” says Dr. Clark Harrison, a gastroenterologist at GI Consultants in Reno. “It’s about controlling your weight. We know there is a strong correlation between obesity and a lot of things that shorten your life expectancy — coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer, including colon cancer.”
Colon cancer, he adds, kills about 50,000 people each year in the U.S., and it’s the second most common type of cancer among men and women.
“A lot of these (colon cancer) cases are probably related to the fact that we live in a culture in which we eat a high-fat, high-protein diet,” Harrison says. “If you go to rural, agrarian, Third-World countries, you’ll see people who don’t eat a lot of processed foods or meats because they can’t afford them, and you also don’t see a lot of colon cancer.”
Harrison explains that the three risk factors for colon cancer are: age (the longer you live, the greater your risk), family history, and diet. Processed meats — those containing nitrates, such as bacon or sausage, in particular — and charred meats are thought to be particularly carcinogenic.
On the other hand, foods thought to be particularly good for colon health are:
- Fruits and vegetables. They contain fiber, which flushes out the colon, as well as nutrients, such as colon cancer-preventing folate, and antioxidants that help prevent inflammation and disease. Fiber also may help reduce your risk of developing diverticulitis, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
- Dairy products. We often hear about probiotics, which are active bacteria that work to maintain bacterial balance in the digestive system; these can be found in yogurt as well as certain other types of milk products. Plus, a Harvard Medical School study found evidence that calcium helps to reduce colon cancer risk.
- Whole grains. Harrison prefers a paleo diet with lean meats such as chicken and fish and light on lean meat, and recommends skipping breads and other gluten-containing products. However, he says that rice is the easiest grain to digest, and can help to calm or prevent gastrointestinal distress (try locally distributed Hela Bima rice, which offers ancient, nutritious varieties. For details, visit http://www.Helabimarice.com); other ancient grains such as quinoa and farro are healthy, fiber-containing grains as well.
Ultimately, Harrison warns against trendy diets and buying into unproven claims about miracle foods.
“There’s a lot of hocus pocus out there. Every decade or so there’s another trend — low carb, fermented, gluten free,” he says. “But the bottom line is that sticking with a low-fat diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and eliminating processed meats is good for reducing body weight and risk of cancer.”
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer and editor and managing editor of edible Reno-Tahoe. A lover of cheese, she is thrilled to learn that cheese is healthy for her digestive tract and plans to take full advantage of this fact.
Do you need a colonoscopy?
Your chance of contracting colon cancer is one in 20; if there’s a history of it in your immediate family, that risk doubles. Screening typically begins at age 50 for Caucasians and 45 for African Americans, who tend to have a higher risk and earlier onset. While the national goal for people to get an early screening is 80 percent, Nevada’s screening rate is 60 percent, among the nation’s lowest. But a colonoscopy is a procedure that can actually prevent cancer. So it should be a priority.
“When we do one, we’re looking for fleshy growths called polyps,” Harrison says. “A polyp is a precancerous lesion, and if we find one, we remove it during the procedure. So a colonoscopy is unique because we can remove a precancerous polyp and prevent cancer down the road.”
Colonoscopies are 80 to 90 percent effective in preventing colon cancer deaths. However, another option that may be more appealing to patients is the FIT, or fecal immunochemical test, which detects blood that may be derived from a cancerous polyp. A FIT has about a 70 to 80 percent chance of detecting colon cancer.
GI Consultants (4 locations)
880 Ryland St., Reno
10619 Professional Circle, Reno
1385 Vista Lane, Carson City
1520 Virginia Ranch Road, Ste. 2B, Gardnerville