Scientists have known for years that the 100 trillion microbes living in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract are an important part of staying healthy.
Collectively known as the gut microbiome, or “gut flora,” these micro-organisms not only digest and absorb nutrients from the food you eat, they are also responsible for the greater part of your immune system.
They dictate whether you are healthy or sick. And specifically, now we know they can determine whether you get colon cancer or not.
Keep reading for the latest important discoveries about the “friendly” microbes in your gut – and the best ways to help them out. . .
Special Message From Lee Euler, Editor
The miracle mineral that
Recently, scientists discovered the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut is constantly tilting back and forth … and having higher populations of good bacteria helps prevent colon cancer (the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.)
Not only that, this balance is something you can directly influence to tip the scales in your favor. You can put your 25 feet of cancer-fighting GI tract to work to reduce your risk of colon cancer and increase your overall well-being.
Studies agree: You are what you eat
As a Cancer Defeated reader, you know that the importance of nutrition to your overall health, wellness, and longevity cannot be overstated. If your eating habits are rich in whole fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, you’re likely to be sick less and to live longer.
It makes sense that the long, complex organ responsible for breaking down and absorbing those foods — and the 800 different bacterial species housed there — would be on the “front line” of disease prevention.
According to Dr. Stephen O’Keefe, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, your diet directly influences the variety of microbes in your gut … which then influence how healthy (and cancer-free) your colon is.1
For example, researchers agree that consuming a lot of red meat, processed foods and alcohol, while eating few fruits and vegetables, is a recipe for colon cancer because of how those foods affect your gut flora.
Take red meat for example.
Digesting meat releases sulfur residue. In the rest of your body, sulfur is a key ingredient for creating proteins and enzymes, healthy insulin function, and joint health. But when released in the GI tract, the bacteria that feed on sulfur thrive. Those bacteria produce toxic byproducts, including hydrogen sulfide and other possible carcinogens. What’s more, the increased levels of sulfur inhibit the activity of the good bacteria that thrive on methane.
This microbial imbalance is called dysbiosis — and studies have shown people with colon cancer have it.10
For years, however, researchers weren’t sure if dysbiosis leads to colon cancer, or if cancer occurs first – from some other cause – and then disrupts the microbiome.
A recent study from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor settled the matter. Dysbiosis — an inbalance in the gut bacteria — precedes colon cancer.
Researchers introduced the gut flora from mice that had cancer into healthy mice to see what would happen. Bacteria known to form tumors grew quickly … and gave the once-healthy mice cancer.
The researchers concluded that it’s possible to do the opposite: manipulate gut flora to increase levels of good bacteria and potentially prevent the development of colon cancer.4
It turns out this is an easy thing to do.
One prebiotic heavily tips the bacteria
balance in your favor
“Friendly” bacteria are called probiotics, because they help you function well. Prebiotics are essentially food for helpful bacteria.
One prebiotic that’s particularly important to your health and to staving off colon cancer is butyrate.
Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid produced during digestion, and it’s one of the best energy sources for the cells that line the colon. They love it so much, in fact, that without their favorite food, colon cells undergo autophagy—a process in which they self-digest and die.
Besides that, research shows that butyrate is anti-inflammatory. It also regulates cell growth and differentiation (a very important task, as abnormal cell division is one of the first steps in tumor growth).
The list of benefits goes on: Butyrate reduces chemicals that mutate DNA … increases detoxification of the cell … and it can even trigger apoptosis in existing colon cancer cells.2,8
So, how do you ensure you’re giving your cells plenty of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids they love?
How to feed your cancer-fighting gut flora
Butyrate and other prebiotics are easily produced from “indigestible” dietary fibers and “resistant” starches — so-called because they are not digested in the small intestine, but are instead broken down by fermentation in the large intestine (colon).
Sources of prebiotic fiber and resistant starch include:
- Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, Romaine lettuce, mustard and collard greens …
- Legumes such as peanuts, lentils, cooked dry beans, and peas …
- Fruit, especially high-fiber fruit like apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries and raspberries …
- High-fiber vegetables like leeks, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts and artichokes.
You can also use raw potato starch as a supplement, and reap the benefit of eight grams of resistant starch per tablespoon. It’s inexpensive and you can find it in the grocery store. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, either, so you can mix it into smoothies, sprinkle it on your food, or mix it with water and drink it straight.
Probiotic supplements increase “colonies” directly
In addition to giving good bacteria the prebiotic food they prefer, you can also take probiotic supplements to increase your good bacteria directly, especially Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Acidophilus.
Lactobacillus specifically is known to reinforce the immune system. It is also preventative against colon cancer, even in the early stages of cancer.
And according to nutritionist Allison Tannis, there’s some evidence that shows acidophilus decreases levels of cancer-promoting bile salts and carcinogenic substances.9
Studies have shown that milk fermented with strains of Lactobacillus bulgaricus and S. thermophilus are more effective at neutralizing carcinogenic material in the gut than other forms of probiotics.
Taking a probiotic supplement is a great choice — especially if you have recently been on antibiotics, which kill both good and bad gut flora and prolong the healing process.
Experts strongly recommend you take probiotics even during your antibiotic course. (Simply wait 30 minutes so the antibiotics don’t kill the good bacteria in your supplement.)
The supplement I take contains 100 billion “colony forming units.” That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. Some clinical studies have given patients a trillion units per day. I laugh when I see supplements that have a couple of billion units.
I insist on buying only those probiotics that have been refrigerated in the store (and before they got to the store, I hope.) And I take them home in an ice chest to make sure the microbes don’t die before I get them into my fridge.
It’s an inconvenient fact that mail order probiotics are probably not a good idea. Especially in the summer – but honestly, anytime. The die-off rate is too high and you’re paying a princely sum of money for dead powder.
Yogurt can be a source of probiotics, but not all manufactured yogurts have a significant number of live cultures. The best bet is to make your own yogurt at home, in your own fridge. And with yogurt there’s also the problem of lactose intolerance for some people. In general, I think dairy products should be kept to a minimum.
If you’re lactose intolerant – or you just want to avoid milk — you’re not out of luck. Probiotics also come from unpasteurized pickled or fermented products, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto, tempeh, and umeboshi (pickled plum.) See Issue #291 for the benefits of cultured vegetables and how to make your own.
Remember, when it comes to fighting cancer, fermented soy is the only soy that’s safe. Other soy products continue to be a subject of raging controversy.
You might think that once you’ve introduced friendly bacteria into your colon, they should multiply and establish a permanent foothold. Sad to say, it doesn’t work this way. They die out and you have to plant a new crop, so to speak. Figure on supplementing with probiotics for life.
This might not have been the case if our society didn’t misuse antibiotics, but for most of us our own native intestinal flora – which we develop as infants and toddlers — have been decimated by these drugs. And in any case, a diet rich in healthy bacteria is a good idea.
Why? That’s an easy one: Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second most deadly … but it doesn’t have to be. Maintaining a healthy balance of gut flora can do much of the hard work of keeping you cancer-free.