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Natural Approach to Colon Cancer Prevention

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Updated July 27, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

There are a number of ways to help prevent colon cancer. In addition to receiving medical tests that help detect the disease early on, you can make a number of lifestyle changes to reduce your colon cancer risk.

Natural Approach to Colon Cancer Prevention

To date, few natural remedies or alternative therapies have been found to play a significant role in colon cancer prevention. However, preliminary research suggests that the following substances may help reduce colon cancer risk to some degree. Here's a look at some key study findings:

1) Vitamin D

High blood levels of vitamin D may be linked to a lower risk of colon cancer, according to a 2010 study. Analyzing data on 1,248 people with colorectal cancer and the same number of healthy individuals, researchers determined that those with the highest levels of vitamin D had a 40% reduced risk of colon cancer compared to those with the lowest levels.

More about Vitamin D.

2) Folate

Making sure you consume enough folate (a B vitamin found in foods like spinach, asparagus, and fortified cereals) may lower your risk of colon cancer, according to a 2005 meta-analysis of 16 previously published studies. The recommended daily intake of folate is 400 mcg for most adults. Pregnant women should consume 600 mcg daily, while breastfeeding women should consume 500 mcg daily.

3) Quercetin

In lab tests on cell cultures, scientists have demonstrated that quercetin may help stall the growth of colon cancer. What's more, a 2010 population-based study of 672 people found that dietary intake of quercetin may be linked with reduced risk of colon cancer.

An antioxidant available in supplement form, quercetin is naturally found in foods like apples, onions, and berries.

See Quercetin: What You Need to Know.

4) Tea

White tea may help inhibit the growth of aberrant crypts (a precursor to colon cancer), according to an animal study published in 2001.

Green tea has also been found to fight colon cancer in animal-based research and test-tube studies. However, the available scientific data are insufficient to conclude that any type of tea may prevent colon cancer in humans.

Other Approaches to Prevention

To lower your risk of colon cancer, try these strategies recommended by the American Cancer Society:

1) Screening

Most people should begin regular colon cancer screening at age 50. However, those with a family history of colon cancer (or with other risk factors for the disease) should consult their physician about starting screening before age 50.

2) Healthy Diet

Eating five or more servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, choosing whole grains over processed grains, and cutting back on processed and red meats may help prevent colon cancer.

3) Exercise

For colon cancer prevention, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on five or more days of the week. Getting at least 45 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity five or more times weekly may further reduce your colon cancer risk.

4) Limiting Alcohol Intake

In addition to avoiding smoking, you should limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.

NSAIDs and Colon Cancer Prevention

A number of studies suggest that people who regularly use aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have a lower risk of colon cancer. However, since NSAIDs can cause serious side effects (including bleeding from stomach irritation), it's important to consult your physician before taking these drugs on a regular basis. In fact, the American Cancer Society notes that "experts do not recommend NSAIDs as a cancer prevention strategy for people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer."

Causes of Colon Cancer

In most cases, colon cancer begins with the formation of precancerous growths (polyps) that become cancerous over time. Although the cause of colon cancer is unknown, the following may increase the risk for the disease:

  • being over age 60
  • a family history of colon cancer
  • a personal history of breast cancer
  • the presence of inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • the presence of cancer elsewhere in the body
  • a diet high in red or processed meat
  • lack of physical activity
  • smoking cigarettes
  • drinking alcohol

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Although colon cancer often produces no symptoms, some people with colon cancer may experience with the following:

  • a change in bowel habits (such as diarrhea or constipation)
  • persistent abdominal pain or discomfort
  • tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • rectal bleeding or bloody stool
  • intestinal obstruction
  • narrow stools
  • unexplained weight loss
  • unexplained anemia
  • fatigue

If you notice any symptoms of colon cancer, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Alternative Medicine and Colon Cancer Prevention

Due to the lack of science behind their colon-cancer-fighting effects, it's important not to rely solely on any of the above natural remedies as a means of colon cancer prevention.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented? May 18, 2009.

Gilberto Santana-Rios, Gayle A. Orner, Meirong Xu, Maria Izquierdo-Pulido, and Roderick H. Dashwood. "Inhibition by White Tea of 2-Amino-1-Methyl-6-Phenylimidazo[4,5-b]Pyridine-Induced Colonic Aberrant Crypts in the F344 Rat." Nutrition and Cancer 2001; 41(1-2): 98–103.

Jenab M, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, et. al. "Association between pre-diagnostic circulating vitamin D concentration and risk of colorectal cancer in European populations:a nested case-control study." BMJ. 2010 340:b5500. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b5500.

Kyle JA, Sharp L, Little J, Duthie GG, McNeill G. "Dietary flavonoid intake and colorectal cancer: a case-control study." Br J Nutr. 2010 103(3):429-36.

Sanjoaquin MA, Allen N, Couto E, Roddam AW, Key TJ. "Folate intake and colorectal cancer risk: a meta-analytical approach." Int J Cancer. 2005 20;113(5):825-8.

Shan BE, Wang MX, Li RQ. "Quercetin inhibit human SW480 colon cancer growth in association with inhibition of cyclin D1 and survivin expression through Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway." Cancer Invest. 2009 27(6):604-12.

Sun CL, Yuan JM, Koh WP, Yu MC. "Green tea, black tea and colorectal cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies." Carcinogenesis. 2006 Jul;27(7):1301-9.

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