As a colorectal surgeon, I see many preventable ailments, but I find that patients are often unaware of how simple changes can lead to big improvements in their overall health, specifically their colorectal health. Preventable colorectal ailments range from diseases as serious as colorectal cancer to more benign but problematic issues like diverticulitis and hemorrhoids. Here are my top ten ways to take care of your colon health.
Get colonoscopies on time
The recommended age to start colonoscopy screening is 45. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and is largely preventable with correct screening. Subsequent colonoscopies are every 10 years or sooner if your doctor finds polyps.
Colorectal cancer is associated with tobacco use. Tobacco products introduce chemicals into your body that create free radicals which damage DNA and mutate healthy cells. Free radicals can cause the development of precancerous polyps and eventually cancer.
Maintain a healthy weight
Scientists have demonstrated that obesity increases the risk of colon cancer development up to 33% as compared to the risk of a person with a normal BMI.
Lower sugar intake
High circulating glucose and insulin levels is a well-established risk factor for cancer. Insulin is an anabolic hormone and when circulating in your bloodstream in excess, insulin has been shown to have tumor growing effects on precancerous cells.
Avoid red meats, smoked foods, and processed foods
Red meat and highly processed foods are high in saturated fat, which has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Smoked meats also introduce carcinogens into the body.
Eat colorful fruits/veggies
The different colors of fruits and vegetables come from phytonutrients in these foods. These phytonutrients help “clean up” free radicals and cancer causing chemicals in the body, and play a role in preventing DNA mutations that lead to cancer.
Increase dietary fiber intake
High fiber foods often contain nutrients and antioxidants that protect against cancer development. Fiber promotes improved gut motility, and is correlated with lower rates of ailments like diverticulosis, hemorrhoids and fissures.
Regular exercise can encourage more consistent bowel movements and more effective emptying of stool. The increased blood flow and circulation may also be protective for your colorectal health.
Drink plenty of water
When you’re not properly hydrated, the colon works harder to reclaim the water in your GI tract. Drinking eight or more glasses of water a day can prevent constipation and all the ailments that come with poor emptying.
Avoid straining, use step stool
In the seated position of a regular toilet, the angle between the rectum and the anal canal is kinked, making it harder to fully empty the rectum. However, using a stool to prop up the feet and flex the hips straightens the anorectal angle. Less straining with bowel movements prevents the development or progression of anorectal problems like hemorrhoids and fissures.
Susan Knoche, M.D., is board certified in colon and rectal surgery located in Mount Pleasant. Learn more online at EastCooperColorectalSurgery.com.