Bowel cancer: How to protect yourself

Roughly one in twenty are affected by bowel cancer and it claims the lives of 50 people in the UK each day. Symptoms include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, anaemia and a change in bowel habits and your risk increases with age. The good news is that if caught early enough, it is fairly easy to treat and making small alterations to your diet and lifestyle can help you prevent it. Follow these natural tips to keep your colon healthy and if you notice any of the above symptoms contact your doctor immediately.


Increase the amount of fibre you eat: Women who eat more fruit and vegetables (cooked and raw), as well as wholegrain foods and cereals, are less likely to succumb to bowel cancer. In 2001 a major study found that a high fibre diet can decrease the risk by a staggering 40 per cent. A fibre-rich diet will speed the movement of waste through your digestive system and prevent constipation. Anything that slows down your digestive system and leaves waste in your colon for longer than normal is a potential extra risk to your health. Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day will speed up your digestive system and help the colon to empty itself regularly.


Aim for around 18g of fibre a day (in contrast to the 10 grams or less most of us consume) by eating more whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruit. Avoid bran as it is technically a refined food because it is stripped away from the whole grain and sold on its own. Bran contains substances called ‘phytates’ which, once consumed, bind valuable minerals, attracting calcium, zinc, magnesium amongst others like a magnet. These minerals, essential for your general health, are then excreted with the bran from the digestive tract. Ironically, although bran is often used to overcome constipation, it can irritate the digestive system causing bloating and irritable bowel-like symptoms. It is far better to eat bran in the form that Nature intended, as part of the whole grain – as in wholemeal bread.


Drink plenty of water: Ideally between six and eight glasses of water a day will help boost your digestive system by keeping motions soft. Try to cut down on tea, coffee and cola, which contain caffeine – as they encourage fluid to pass through the body as urine rather than circulating in the colon.


Watch your weight: If you’re overweight your risk of bowel cancer increases by 55 per cent and if you fall into the obese category your risk increases by 33 per cent according to Cancer Research UK.


Stockpile onions and garlic: Vegetables from the allium family, such as onions, garlic and leeks, contain substances that are thought to help prevent the onset of bowel cancer. There is also evidence that broccoli and watercress may also provide protection.


Stop smoking: If you smoke you are between one and a half and three times more likely to get bowel cancer than a non smoker.


Drink less: Alcohol that is, not water. According to Cancer Research UK if you are drinking more than two units of alcohol a day your risk increases by 26% and if you drink more than four units a day your risk increases by 64%.


Get moving: Studies have shown that people who exercise moderately every day for a minimum of thirty minutes have a lower risk of developing bowel cancer than those who lead sedentary lifestyles.


Avoid red and processed meat: Processed meat is meat that is preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of preservatives that can produce cancer forming substances. According to some experts even eating one sausage a day can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer by one fifth.


Screening: If you’re in your sixties, in a few years time you will receive a faecal blood test from the NHS. If you are under the age of sixty and have one or more relative who have or had the disease, talk to your doctor immediately about screening. If you have unusual results you will be invited for a colonoscopy. Remember, if caught early enough, bowel cancer can be cured. Some people feel embarrassed about discussing bowel problems with their doctor but if you wait until you can’t cope anymore with your symptoms it can sometimes be too late. Be sensible; don’t die of embarrassment.

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