DIET AND COLON CANCER
I grew up only seeing my father once a year since my parents divorced when I was little and lived on opposite sides of South Africa. I have memories of going out for a restaurant dinner when I visited my Dad ( a treat back then), and having him savour a giant steak, which to my eyes, seemed to overlap the edges of his dinner plate. I also have a clear memory of my mother telling me when I was twelve, that “Daddy had colon cancer”, and of my Dad subsequently dying from the disease when I was eighteen. Unfortunately, this story is still all too common, thirty years later.
In Canada there are over 25 000 new cases of colorectal cancer each year, with 9300 Canadians dying each year from the disease. In British Columbia, we have the lowest incidence in the country, likely due to our higher rates of exercise, and more health conscious diets. However, we still have 3 150 new cases a year with 1230 deaths each year.
Interestingly, we have seen a decreasing incidence of new cases in older adults recently, likely due to improved screening and colonoscopies during which pre-cancerous polyps are removed. The bad news is that rates are increasing for young adults (those under 50).
The World Health Organization has finally stated that 50g a day of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. I say finally, because the evidence has been available for many many years to support this. Unfortunately, 50g is barely one slice of ham on your lunch sandwich and most people have at least a couple of slices. Processed meats include sausage, salami, ham, pate, tinned meat and everyone’s favourite breakfast meat, bacon! Red meats are also implicated in the role of colon cancer, and these include beef, veal, pork and lamb.
So once again, we turn to a Whole Food, Plant Based diet to help us out with how to eat for optimal health. Prof T Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, (and author of the China Study) explains: “A diet high in animal protein increases the amount of carcinogens entering cells,this increases the enzyme MFO (mixed function oxidase) that causes increased carcinogenic activity.” A whole food, plant based diet provides hundreds of known and yet to be discovered substances, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre all of which contribute to optimal health.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of colon cancer? Firstly, increase your daily activity levels. Secondly, maintain, or work towards a healthy weight, and especially reduce belly fat. Thirdly, change to a whole food plant based diet (WFPBD) which will help you easily attain the high fibre intake which is so protective for your colon’s health, and include lots of garlic in this diet. I would like to stress the importance of the words “Whole Food” as it is possible to live on chips and Oreo cookies and still be avoiding animal products, but not be eating healthily at all!