Colon health? Okay, maybe this isn’t the most exciting topic. Maybe it’s even a little cringeworthy. But, it’s nothing to take lightly. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the Colon Cancer Alliance estimates that nearly 150,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, joining 1.4 million colorectal cancer patients and survivors living today. In addition to preventing colorectal cancer, colon health is important for many other reasons! The colon, also known as the large intestine, is key to optimal digestive functioning and overall wellbeing. Its primary purpose is to reabsorb fluids and process and eliminate waste, so it’s important to prevent physical discomfort, too. Keep reading to learn about what you can do (and avoid) to keep your colon healthy.
Eat a balanced diet. Nutrition research is constantly evolving, and–as you might have noticed–there’s often disagreement about specific recommendations. Instead of getting out in to the weeds here, know that a well-balanced diet is your best bet for prevention of colon disease. What does that mean? You guessed it: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and quality proteins and fats. For more information, check out our previous blog post on The Basics of Building a Healthy Plate, and also our latest Dietitian’s Choice Recipe featuring Brussels sprouts, which are a superstar for colon health.
Move your body. Again, this may sound like generalized advice, but there’s a strong link between physical activity and colon health, specifically reduced risk of colon cancer. When considering physical activity, know that any variety “counts,” so whether you prefer to walk or lift weights or have a dance party, do it!
Follow screening guidelines. The CDC recommends screening for those aged 50 to 75, or younger if: you or a close relative have a history of colorectal polyps or cancer; you have an inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis); you have a genetic syndrome that could affect your risk. Visit the CDC website for additional information, and be sure to discuss your individual risk with your doctor.
Smoking. It increases the risk of colon cancer and is overall potentially damaging to colon health. Chemicals inhaled with smoking can contribute to damaging DNA and healthy cells, which can lead to the development of polyps in the large intestine. While not necessarily cancerous, these polyps can become cancerous and ultimately lead to colon cancer.
Excessive alcohol intake. It’s linked to higher risk for colon cancer, likely in the same way as smoking. The definition of moderate alcohol intake is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, so sticking to that is recommended.
While it’s important to raise awareness for what to avoid, it’s usually more productive to focus on positive behaviors, i.e. “What can I do to improve my health,” vs. “What do I need to stop doing?” So, instead of thinking, “I need to quit being lazy,” try “This week, I’m going to walk for 10 minutes instead of scrolling social media.” And if quitting smoking is on your mind, you might try thinking, “This week, I’m going to decrease my smoking by one cigarette per day,” as opposed to “I have to stop smoking.”
Colon health is a specific topic, but whatever behavior change you attempt will have benefits extending far beyond colon health. So, what is one thing you can do to improve both colon and overall health today? Let us know in the comments!