In the fight against colon cancer, the best defense is regular screenings. But it’s not the only defense. Like many other conditions, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can play an important role in preventing colon cancer. Recent studies have suggested that a rise in colorectal cancer diagnoses is a result of an American diet that emphasizes quick, convenient processed foods over all-natural, whole foods and balanced meals.
What Does the Colon Do?
In order to understand the link between colorectal cancer and nutrition, it’s important to understand what the colon does, and its role in our body’s physical processes. The colon, also referred to as the large intestine, is a six-foot-long section of the body’s internal plumbing system. The colon works tirelessly alongside the stomach, small intestine, and the other organs involved in our digestive process to remove waste from the body while maintaining the balance of fluid and electrolytes necessary to allow your body to function effectively.
The colon plays a crucial role in our bowel health. Problems with the colon or other parts of the digestive system can greatly impact our physical health, and can even jeopardize the long-term health of other vital organs like the heart. In more serious cases, poor colon health can also increase a person’s risk for developing certain types of esophageal and colorectal cancer.
Eating for a Healthier Colon
Many of us make decisions about the food we eat based on what we’re hungry for or what’s convenient. But it’s important to remember that food’s most important function is to nourish our body. The foods we choose to introduce to our bodies can either help or hinder our health, which is why it’s so important that we be mindful of how what we eat every day and how our patterns of eating can impact our health—including the digestive system.
When it comes to colon health, there are certain foods we can look for that will create a positive and healthy “gut” environment. Fiber is perhaps the most important component of a colon-healthy diet, but many of us overlook this essential nutrient. Incorporating a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables into your diet is one of the best ways to improve and maintain your colon health. A balanced, high-fiber and low-fat diet that incorporates an assortment of vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, and whole grains will not only help the body stay regular, but it can also reduce the risk for colorectal cancer.
Hydration is also a key factor in keeping the colon healthy and improving overall digestive function. The colon needs water and other body fluids to assist in digestion and the production of stool. This is why people who are dehydrated are more likely to suffer from constipation or an increased amount of strain on the body during regular bowel movements. Staying properly hydrated throughout the day is essential for our overall health.
Of course, what you should eat is just as important as what you should not eat. There are certain foods that can impair our bowel functions and prove particularly harmful to anyone who has chronic digestive issues or is recovering from other intestinal complications.
These foods include:
- Excessive amounts of caffeine
- Carbonated beverages like soda and seltzer water
- Dried fruits and vegetables (opt for fresh produce instead)
- Dairy products (for those who constipated or those with lactose intolerance)
Main Line Health is committed to helping patients optimize their health now and in the long-term. We connect patients with the tools and resources they need to adopt healthier diet and nutritional habits. Our multi-disciplinary team of digestive health physicians and nutrition specialists is always available to help support these goals as well.
Visit mainlinehealth.org to connect with a physician or to learn more about our nutrition and condition management care offerings.