Is Gut Health Linked to Colon Cancer?   

Is Gut Health Linked to Colon Cancer?

Man holding decorative model intestine, looking at colon health.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Sarah Arnao , MS, RDN, CSO

Did you know that colorectal cancer accounts for about 10% of the new cancer cases globally? As the prevalence of this cancer type continues to rise, questions around development of colorectal cancer, disease progression and response to treatment are at an all time high. 

A plethora of recent research has shown that the makeup of our gut microbiome has an impact on the development and progression of colon cancer.

What is the gut microbiome? 

“The gut microbiome can be simply explained as the billions of microorganisms that live in our intestines,” says registered oncology dietician, Sarah Arnao. “The majority of these bacteria live within our colon, however some groups of these microbes can be found in our small intestine and stomach too.”

These microorganisms have many important jobs: 

  • they harvest energy from foods
  • help to regulate our bowel movements
  • strengthen the gut barrier
  • protect us from harmful bacteria and viruses
  • create vitamins and hormones
  • can impact our blood lipids 

The Imbalance of Gut Microbiome & Colon Cancer

“Changes in the gut microbiome can be caused by eating habits and environmental factors. Research is now showing that an imbalance, or ‘dysbiosis’, of our gut microbiome can stimulate inflammation and contribute to the development of colorectal cancer,” says Sara. “This imbalance may contribute to the progression of the disease, and the body’s response to treatment.”

How Do We Keep Our Gut Microbiome Healthy?

1. Consume foods with probiotics, like fermented foods

  • Probiotics are living microorganisms that make up our microbiome in our digestive tract. Consuming foods with "live active cultures" or probiotics can help to maintain a healthy colony of “good” gut bacteria. Some examples are: yogurt, Kefir.

  • Fermented foods may also contain probiotics to support our gut health. Examples include: 
    • Fermented soy (miso, tempeh,tamari, natto)
    • Fermented condiments (some relishes, pickled ginger)
    • Fermented beverages (Kombucha) 
    • Fermented fruits (chutneys, pickled jackfruit)
    • Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled cucumber, beets, or carrots)

2. Have a fiber-rich diet, filled with prebiotics

Prebiotics are fiber-rich foods that provide nutrients to probiotics to help them flourish. When probiotic bacteria break down the prebiotics in the colon, they produce butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid, which fuels our digestive cells and protects the GI tract from harmful bacteria.

Foods that contain prebiotics have at least one of the following fibers in them: galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, oligofructose, chicory, and inulin.

Foods such as onions, garlic, chicory root, and bananas naturally have these fibers in them but foods such as cereals, breads, and yogurt commonly have these fibers added to them.

3. Eat a “plant forward diet”

  • Aim to have 1.5 to 2 cups of whole fruits per day
  • Aim have 2-3 cups of vegetables per day
  • Incorporate more beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds to meals
  • Consume whole grains
  • Eat fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, and low fat dairy in moderation throughout the week
  • Eat red meat, processed meats, and sweets in small portions only once or twice a month

4. Eat foods which contain “live” or “active cultures” such as yogurt, kefir, and farmers cheese

Next Steps & Resources:

  • Meet our source: Sarah Arnao MS, RDN, CSO
  • To make an appointment with a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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