CINCINNATI—Although calcium is known to keep bones and teeth strong, a University of Cincinnati (UC) expert now says it may also help fight colon cancer.
There are no concrete findings to support a link between diet and cancer, says Jonathan Kushner, MD, but there is evidence to suggest a daily intake of calcium and fiber can possibly aid in preventing the disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 112,340 Americans will likely develop or be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007.
March has been designated National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, says Kushner, so now is as good a time as any to consider colon health.
“The chance a person may have of developing cancer is dictated mainly by genetics,” says Kushner, associate professor in the division of digestive diseases at UC. “However, environmental factors may also be involved.”
A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that the recurrence of colon growths was significantly lower in patients who were given calcium supplements as opposed to a placebo.
Kushner recommends taking 1,000 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium, or four to five dairy servings, per day to ensure a healthy colon.
He also says fiber, found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, has long been thought to protect the colon from cancer.
In a 2003 study published in The Lancet, researchers examined the association between dietary fiber intake and the incidence of colorectal cancer in sample groups from 10 European countries.
They found that doubling the total dietary fiber intake in populations with a low average intake of dietary fiber could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 40 percent.
However, Kushner says, the rates of cancer in certain countries have risen in the past few years, which could be associated with the adaptation of American-style diets.
He adds that red meat as well as fatty and sugary foods are believed to contribute to thedevelopment of colon cancer and that ingestion of fiber can help to reduce the negative effects of these red-flag foods.
“The thought is that eating more fiber means eating less of something else,” Kushner says. “Type 2 diabetics have higher insulin resistance and are more susceptible to developing colon cancer, as are overweight people and those who don’t exercise.”
Kushner says insoluble fibers, such as whole wheat grains, are better sources of fiber, and you should consume over 30 grams daily to help protect your colon.
“Fiber is an important fuel source for the colon,” Kushner says, noting that it actually nourishes the colon and helps in the normal cycling of cells.
However, Kushner says, dietary precautions still don’t eliminate the necessity for colon screenings. Regular screenings can detect precancerous polyps or cancer prior to the onset of symptoms.
“You still need to be screened,” Kushner says. “But, in addition to helping other organs and benefiting one’s health, these steps may reduce your risk of colon cancer.”
Risks associated with colorectal cancer include:
- Age, 50 and older
- Formation of colorectal polyps
- Family history
- Personal history of colorectal cancer
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, which cause inflammation of the colon
- Diets high in fat and alcohol and low in calcium and folate
- Cigarette smoking
To schedule a colon cancer screening, call the UC’s digestive diseases division at (513) 475-7505.