I must have reached that age. Perhaps you know the one – when you get regular invitations from your doctor, nearest hospital or NHS clinic to come for mammography, cholesterol testing, BMI analysis, blood pressure measurements etc. How is that possible? I’m sure I’m still only about 26… The latest invitation I have had is one for bowel scope screening. For those of you who have not yet reached my age, bowel scope screening detects polyps in the wall of the large intestine, which, although initially benign, can become cancerous. This screening, according to the brochure I received from the NHS, saves 1 or 2 extra lives in 300*, and is stated to be the best method of lowering your risk of bowel cancer.
Now, knowing me as you do, you can be sure that I would be interested in challenging such a statement. Surely diet and lifestyle factors are most likely to influence the development of bowel cancer? From a preventative point of view, according to the brochure I received, under a heading of “what else can I do?”, you can do this –
– Be physically active
– Keep a healthy weight
– Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and other high fibre foods (yay!)
– Eat less red meat and processed meat (umm… how much less? How about none?)
– Drink alcohol in moderation (they missed a word out there. Drink alcohol only in moderation. Otherwise, for people like myself who don’t drink any alcohol at all, do they mean I have to start drinking?)
– Don’t smoke (pretty obvious!)
I’ve been digging about in the literature and have come up with my own list:
– Avoid all red meat, particularly barbecued and processed meat. For each extra portion of these foods that someone regularly eats, the incidence of bowel cancer increases by an average of 18%, according to global studies.
– Eat a high fibre, plant-based diet. The diet advocated by the Hippocrates Health Institute is the most protective. Have you booked your stay yet?
– Avoid highly processed grains. Numerous studies have linked their consumption to colon cancer.
– Ensure that your fat intake is tipped towards “protective” omega 3 from algae, rather than “aggravating” omega 6, from refined vegetable oils. Your ratio ideally should be 2:1 or 1:1. Some people’s is skewed as far as 1:20. This is a slippery slope and highly detrimental to numerous body systems. To boost my healthy omegas, I use these capsules.
– Ditch the dairy. Some studies consider dairy products to be protective against bowel cancer but this is controversial and currently not statistically significant, unless you’re African American, in which case dairy products increase your bowel cancer risk. Some postulate that any protective effect is because of the calcium content. But as you’ll read in my book Love Your Bones, the best source of calcium is not dairy products. You can read about Love Your Bones and buy it here.
– Avoid alcohol and coffee. They are both positively correlated with bowel cancer according to studies in North and South America, Europe and the Far East.
– Ensure that you have a bowel movement for every meal you have. Constipation helps no one! And to get into the best position for elimination, put your feet up on some books when you’re sitting on the loo. The modern toilet has a lot to answer for. When I was travelling in China and Bhutan in May, I came to notice that most toilets were holes in the ground over which you squat. It certainly gets the colon into a good position for letting go…
– Finally, exercise. Yes, every day, or at least 5 times a week. You don’t necessarily have to go to the extremes that I do (Marathon in Madagascar in June 2019 anyone?) but you’ve got to move that body to stay healthy.
5 out of 300 people will get bowel cancer over 10 years if they are not screened. Screening reduces this to 3 in 300.
2 out of 300 people will die of bowel cancer over 10 years if they are not screened. Screening reduces this to 1 in 300.