You might think that having a genetic predisposition for cancer is a death sentence, or that there’s very little you can do to counteract heredity.
Well, recent research has shown this to be untrue when it comes to colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer.
In fact, people who have a high genetic risk for colorectal cancer are in a better position to protect themselves by changing their lifestyle than people who are not genetically at risk.
The higher your colorectal cancer risk, the more you can do about it
The UK Biobank is a large, ongoing, long-term study in the UK that aims to investigate the roles genes and environmental factors play in disease.
In April, researchers from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee published a study that analyzed data from more than 120,000 participants in the UK Biobank and found something rather astonishing.
Among people with a high genetic risk of developing colorectal cancer, a healthy lifestyle was associated with a nearly 40 percent reduction in their risk of developing the disease.
What’s astonishing is that, by comparison, people with no genetic risk can only hope to lower their risk by 25 percent with lifestyle changes.
What lifestyle factors were measured? Lifestyle scores for unhealthy, intermediate and healthy people were determined according to waist-to-hip ratio, physical activity, sedentary time, processed and red meat intake, vegetable and fruit intake, alcohol consumption and tobacco use. These scores were compared with risk scores for genetic colorectal cancer.
The research found that people with high genetic risk and an unhealthy lifestyle are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer than those with low genetic risk and a healthy lifestyle.
The 7 best foods for your colon
“Results from this study could be useful to design personalized prevention strategies for colorectal cancer prevention,” said Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, MPH, Anne Potter Wilson Professor of Medicine and associate director for Population Sciences Research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC).
Although many lifestyle factors can impact your cancer risk, diet is probably the most impactful.
Some of the biggest risk factors for colorectal cancer related to diet are:
- High consumption of red and/or processed meat
- Low calcium intake
- Low intake of fruits and vegetables
- Low intake of whole-grain fiber
To lower your risk, here are the seven foods you should make sure you’re eating regularly:
Fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in fresh fish can help reduce inflammation in the body. In fact, a research team from Vanderbilt University found that women who eat three servings of fish per week reduced their risk of developing colon polyps by about 33 percent.
Your best picks would be baked or smoked salmon, tuna and sardines, since they are also rich in vitamin D and calcium.
Fruits. Most fruits are rich in antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals that can help in protecting you from digestive problems. Apples, blackberries, bananas, blueberries, oranges, pear and raspberries are some of the best sources of fiber.
Green vegetables. Two vegetable families, in particular, have been found to reduce colorectal cancer risk.
A two-year study of over 1600 people revealed that those who ate high amounts of allium vegetables were 79 percent less likely to get colorectal cancer than people who ate low amounts. Garlic, onions and leeks are all allium vegetables.
And, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London found that a compound that’s produced when your body digests vegetables from the Brassica family can stop colon cancer in its tracks.
We’re talking about cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower and cabbage.
White meat. Skinless chicken or turkey are healthy alternatives to red meat.
Whole grains. Brown rice, barley, oatmeal and quinoa are great choices.
Nuts. Nuts are packed with healthy fatty acids, fiber and flavonoids, all of which can help decrease your chances of having colon cancer.
Your best picks would be tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts.
Beans and legumes. Soybeans, lentils, peas, pinto beans, black beans and kidney beans are a great source of protein and fiber, as well as Vitamins B and E.
People at high genetic risk for colorectal cancer benefit more from lifestyle changes — Daily
Healthy lifestyles, genetic modifiers, and colorectal cancer risk: a prospective cohort study in the UK Biobank — The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risk — NYU Langone Health Perlmutter Cancer Center
7 Types of Foods That May Help You Prevent Colon Cancer — North Shore Medical Center