I can be damn sure you or someone you know has suffered with some form of cancer over their lifetime.
This is because the current statistics show that..
“Every 2 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer” according to Cancer Research UK
Breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancers accounted for over half (53%) of all cancers diagnosed in the last year.
Amongst this list is bowel cancer, which is one of the most common cancers for many people in the UK, and this brings into question;
Why is bowel cancer so common and what are the main triggers causing it?
Your risk of bowel cancer (colon and rectal) depends on many factors including age, genetics and lifestyle choices.
There are key risk factors that increase your risk of developing bowel cancer and also key protective factors that help reduce your risk.
The first key risk factor that Cancer Research UK acknowledges is that of Diet.
It is well known that a poor diet lacking in certain nutrients can significantly increase your risk of bowel cancer..
and it’s this specific key risk factor that we will focus on here.
Although the link between diet and bowel cancer is complex and far reaching, scientists agree that there are two strong dietary links with specific foods.
These 2 key risk factors are:
1. Eating too much red and processed meat
2. Eating too little fibre
Both not only increase your risk of developing bowel cancer but are also detrimental to your overall health.
So let’s focus on the dietary impact of eating too much red and processed meat on bowel cancer.
Many studies continually show a strong link between bowel cancer and consuming high amounts of red and processed meat, and it’s estimated that 13% of bowel cancer in the UK is attributed to this respectively.
Foods such as bacon, sausages, salami, canned meats and chicken nuggets are all examples of processed meat that we should all be looking to reduce in our diets.
Instead we should be looking to swap these foods in with foods such as chicken, fish, beans, pulses, whole grains and oats, amongst others.
The government recommends that people eat 70g or less of red and processed meat every day, roughly the same as 2 sausages.
This is the highest level anyone should be considering when they make their dietary choices and for a truly healthier diet, you should be aiming for multiple meat-free days per week.
This important change to meat-free days is not only good for your bowel and digestion, but the environmental impact is reduced to.
Here are 4 other effective dietary choices you can make to reduce your cancer risk:
1. Eat more fruit and vegetables every day, at the very least 5 but aiming for 7-10.
2. Eat more pulses and beans not only to substitute your meat free meals but also to massively increase fibre in your diet.
3. Drink plenty of water (just water) to the point that your urine is clear and you don’t frequently feel thirsty.
and yes I can here you saying “why do I need to drink just water as there is water in squash, coffee and tea anyway”?
Well you would be entirely correct, but there is also a ton of water in beer, but we don’t advocate this as a healthy, hydrating drink!
It’s therefore important to drink plain water or water with lemon to add natural flavour, because your body then doesn’t have to extract the other ingredients before working to hydrate your body, but instead can get straight down to work.
4. Consume more foods higher in prebiotics and probiotics that help to keep your gut and colon healthy and immune function strong.
This could be natural yogurt, yeast extracts, black coffee and others.
If you want to read more about reducing your overall cancer risk (not just bowel) with low meat diets, click here..
The other key risk factors other than diet, for bowel cancer are:
Being overweight and obese
Lack of exercise
Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease
6 out of 12 (including diet) of the risk factors above are lifestyle factors, which come ultimately down to the choices and decisions that we make with our health and well-being.
This is great news - because it means we have a good amount of control over 50% of the risk factors for bowel cancer.
Now this obviously doesn’t mean the healthiest person you know can’t or won’t ever get bowel cancer, but it does mean that anyone looking after the areas of their life they can control, and not being concerned about the areas they can’t, such as family history and age, will have a much reduced risk over their lifespan.
Talking about the areas of life we can control..
This is a good point to start being honest with ourselves and ask some hard, challenging questions, like..
“Am I exercising enough”?
Remember the adult recommendation is 150-300min moderate aerobic exercise every week or 75-150min vigorous intensity exercise every week.
In our experience people just don’t get anywhere near this amount and unfortunately is a big reason why so many people have multiple lifestyle orientated chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
“Do I eat too much processed meat”?
70g per day is the absolute maximum you should be considering eating but to stay healthier it should be much lower.
Adding in meat-free days should start being a non-negotiable for most people without any specific dietary requirements.
“Have I put some extra pounds on around my mid-section”?
Is the ratio of your tummy area compared to your hip area high or low. It’s what we call the hip:waist ratio and it’s a significant measurement for visceral fat (fat around internal organs) and overall health.
The higher your hip:waist ratio the higher your risk for a number of chronic diseases.
Men are specifically at higher risk here because they tend to put extra fat around their mid-section where women tend to put it more on the hips and legs.
“Do I need to stop smoking”?
Smoking is probably the worst habit and lifestyle choice you can make as it increases your risk of all sorts of diseases and increases lung cancer risk by 25 times compared to a non smoker.
If you want to very quickly and substantially improve your health profile, stop smoking immediately or at the very least start reducing it down with the longer term aim of quitting all together.
“Am I drinking alcohol every night at home”?
The adult UK recommendation is not to regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This is equivalent to 6 pints of medium strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine per week.
We here of many people drinking a bottle of wine each night on their own, it’s easily done and can quickly become a habit and a go to after a long, stressful day.
This is a slippery slope and one that needs to be addressed.
“Do I struggle to say No”?
This is more of a mindset tactic, but people that get better at saying “No” to;
that extra biscuit,
that extra night out on the beers,
that extra meal out with friends,
that extra helping on your plate,
are the people that create stronger more consistent habits, which improve not only physical components but also mental ones too.
It takes strength and discipline to say “No” to something you desire but don’t need, and this in turn gives your mental strength a well deserved boost.
It affirms that you are in control of your behaviour and it’s your choice - which is a powerful feeling.
I hope this article has given you some areas of your life to think about when it comes to reducing your bowel cancer risk, with some clear take aways about what you need to focus on to improve your health and ultimately your happiness.
Enjoy the journey of being healthy,
Until next time,