March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and it is naturally a good time to look at the importance of colon health. Colorectal cancer is a cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 22 Americans will develop colorectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. Of that number, most of the people diagnosed will be older than 50. However, taking the steps toward prevention and promoting better colorectal health can start any age.
Besides from helping remove waste from the body, the colon is an important part of keeping the balance of water and nutrients in the body. So, it is no surprise that practicing good nutrition is a vital element in having a healthy colon. A good place to start making changes is increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 2 cups of vegetables daily for women age 51 and older and 2 ½ cups for men over the age of 51. Not sure if you’re getting enough? Look to your plate for clues. Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables followed by healthy grains and lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, beans or peas.
Eating high amounts of red and processed meats has been linked to colon cancer. Most processed meats such as hot dogs, lunchmeats, ham, bacon, and sausage are preserved with sodium nitrate. During digestion, sodium nitrate may convert to a chemical called nitrosamine, which is known to cause cancer. When possible, try to avoid processed meats and limit your intake of red meats. For people age 51 and older, the USDA recommends a daily protein amount of 5 ounces for women and 5 ½ ounces for men.
A healthier diet packed with fruits, vegetables and lean meats also should help you keep a trimmer waistline. Obesity increases the risk of getting and dying from colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that obese people are about 30 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than normal-weight people.
Coupled with maintaining a healthy weight and diet, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes is tremendous help for colon cancer prevention. Much like processed meats, the body breaks down alcohol and cigarette smoke into dangerous carcinogens that put you at risk. According to the National Cancer Institute, people who regularly drink 3.5 drinks per day have 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Smoking harms about every organ and organ system and weakens overall health. Long-term smokers also increase their risk of developing and dying from colon cancer. Of the 250 known harmful chemicals in cigarettes, at least 69 cause cancer.
Finally, one of the biggest preventative measures you can take for good colon health is to make regular screening a priority. Recommended for people 50 and older, a colonoscopy can detect colorectal cancer early and enable the removal of pre-cancerous polyps. In healthy people without a history of risk factors, they are done every five to 10 years. If you are worried about your risk of developing colorectal cancer or need to know if you should make some changes, talk to your doctor about scheduling a colonoscopy.