The most encouraging news about colorectal cancer is that
you can greatly reduce your risk by having regular screenings using
colonoscopy or a combination of barium enema and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
You can also protect yourself by making a few changes in your diet and
lifestyle. The following suggestions may help save your life:
Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet.
These foods are high in fiber, which can cut your risk of developing
colon polyps by as much as 40 percent. Fruits and vegetables also
contain antioxidants, which may help prevent cancer. The American
Cancer Society recommends eating five or more servings of fruits and
vegetables every day. Look for deep-green and dark yellow or orange
fruits and vegetables such as Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach,
cantaloupe, mango, acorn or butternut squash, and sweet potatoes, as
well as vegetables from the cabbage family, including broccoli,
brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Lycopene, a nutrient found in
tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries
and red bell peppers, may be a particularly powerful anti-cancer
chemical. Also try to include legumes — including peas and beans —
and soy foods, such as tofu or soy milk, in your diet.
Limit fat, especially saturated fat.
People who eat high-fat diets have a higher rate of colorectal
cancer than do people who consume less dietary fat. Be especially
careful to limit saturated fats from animal sources such as red
meat. Other foods that contain saturated fat include whole milk,
cheese, ice cream, and coconut and palm oils. Restrict your total
fat intake to less than 35 percent of your daily calories, with no
more than 8 percent to 10 percent coming from saturated fats.
Get recommended amounts of calcium.
Past studies on the connection between calcium and colon cancer have
been inconsistent. Good food sources of calcium include skim or low-fat milk
and other dairy products, broccoli, kale and canned salmon with the
bones. Vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium, also
appears to help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. You get
vitamin D from foods such as vitamin-D fortified milk products,
liver, egg yolks and fish. Sunlight also converts a chemical in your
skin into a usable form of the vitamin. If you don't drink milk or
you avoid the sun, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D
supplement. In addition to helping protect against colorectal
cancer, supplementing your diet with vitamin D and calcium can slow
bone loss (osteoporosis) and lessen your risk of fractures.
Get adequate amounts of folic acid.
Research suggests that getting adequate amounts of the B vitamin
folate or folic acid — the synthetic form of the vitamin — can help
reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Even people with a family
history of the disease may be able to lower their risk by limiting
alcohol consumption and taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
Folate is found in dark leafy greens such as spinach, and in pinto,
kidney and navy beans, some nuts and seeds, and in fortified
cereals. Most multiple vitamins also contain folic acid. Eating
foods rich in folate can have added benefits for women. If you're
pregnant, or think you may become pregnant, getting enough folic
acid in your diet reduces the risk of certain birth defects. Folic
acid also can reduce a risk factor for heart disease in
Limit alcohol consumption.
Consuming moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol — more than one drink
a day for women and two for men — increases your risk of colon
cancer. This is particularly true if you have a close relative, such
as a parent, child or sibling, with the disease.
Smoking can increase your risk of both colon and lung cancer. Talk
to your doctor about ways to quit that may work for you.
Stay physically active and maintain a healthy body weight.
Controlling your weight alone can reduce your risk of colorectal
cancer. And staying physically active may cut your colon cancer risk
in half. Exercise stimulates movement through your bowel and reduces
the time your colon is exposed to harmful substances that may cause
Talk to your doctor about aspirin.
Aspirin can cause serious side effects, such as bleeding in the
intestinal tract. For that reason, talk to your doctor before
starting on any aspirin regimen.
Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
If you're a woman past menopause, HRT may reduce your risk of
colorectal cancer. Women who use HRT have a somewhat lower risk of
colorectal cancer than do women who don't use HRT. But not all
effects of HRT are positive. Taking HRT as a combination therapy —
estrogen plus progestin — can increase your risk of breast cancer,
dementia, heart disease, stroke and blood clots. Discuss your
options with your doctor. Together you can decide what's best for
If you're at high risk, consider your options.
If you're at risk of FAP because of a family history of the disease,
consider having genetic counseling. And if you've been diagnosed
with FAP, start having regular colonoscopy tests in your early teens
and discuss your options with your doctor. To prevent cancer from
developing, most experts recommend having surgery to remove your
entire colon when you're in your 20s.
risk for people with hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)
isn't quite as great as it is for those with FAP. Doctors recommend
that people at risk of HNPCC begin having regular colonoscopies
around age 20, but less often recommend removing the colon.
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