March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s also National Nutrition Month. The two may have a lot in common.
The American Institute for Cancer Research focuses on cancer prevention. Their research points to several dietary factors that could increase colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer) risk, including obesity, alcohol use, and consumption of red meat, processed meat, and fried foods.
What do these factors have in common? A key mechanism may be the role of chronic inflammation, which is big news in the research world as studies increasingly point to chronic inflammation as a factor not only in colon cancer and bowel diseases, but also other cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Inflammation is your body’s first step in healing an injury or infection. This response is normally a short-term situation and is referred to as acute inflammation. On the other hand, chronic inflammation happens when this response gets turned up too high and hangs on well past its welcome.
When it comes to inflammation and diet, some foods only fuel the fire. Foods containing sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and highly processed ingredients increase the level of inflammation in your body. Alcohol also increases inflammation. These foods also contribute to excess body weight which in and of itself has been shown to increase inflammation.
The evidence suggests that foods with dietary fiber, things like pulses (beans, peas, and legumes), whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds DECREASE the risk of colon cancer. Not surprisingly, dietary fiber helps to quell inflammation. And while fiber may have the most compelling evidence for reducing inflammation these foods contain other compounds that may also be at work.
Additionally, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce inflammation markers and lower colorectal cancer risk in general. It can also help to maintain a health body weight so don’t forget to make time for movement.
A healthy weight, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can go a long way to reducing your risk factor for colorectal cancer but don’t forget to ask your doctor about getting screened. The fight against colorectal cancer has made progress in recent years with growing awareness and participation in routine screenings but there is a disturbing trend, and this it the growing incidence of colon cancer in younger adults. The medical community is also concerned that many people have decided to forego screening during the pandemic which may result in undiagnosed and untreated cases.