Gut Health and Cancer Prevention
Cancer Prevention. The health of your gut can influence almost every other process in your body, impacting you in both, a positive and a negative way. Taking care of your gut and paying attention to what you put in your body is way past the esthetic factor; it’s helping you prevent diseases, inflammation, and even cancer.
The food you eat, the amount of sleep you get, the stress you endure on a daily basis, and the environmental toxins you’re affected by whenever you leave the house or eat from a plastic container all affect your gut health. And although you cannot control absolutely everything that happens to you day in and day out, there are some areas of your lifestyle you can change and tailor to fit your health goals.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut, also known as the gut microbiome, became a popular topic in recent years, and it’s mainly due to the Human Microbiome Project. It’s the extension of the decades-long Human Genome Project with the goal to understand the human genetic and microbial profile and how they contribute to health, physiology, and development and predisposition to diseases.
The gut microbiome is a collection of all kinds of microbes in your body, from harmful to beneficial bacteria, viruses, and funghi. All of these microorganisms together, also called microbiota, coexist in the same environment. When that environment is healthy, they live “peacefully,” performing their functions and staying in balance.
On the other hand, when that balance is impaired, it can cause the so-called bad bacteria to start rapidly spreading, causing inflammation, weakening your immune system, and wreaking havoc on your entire body. The goal is, of course, to prevent the imbalance from happening in the first place, and that’s where your diet and lifestyle play a huge role.
How Does the Gut Microbiome Develop?
Every person has a unique microbiome that cannot be replicated. Even if two people lived the exact same lives, ate exactly the same food, and had exactly the same lifestyles, their gut microbiome would be different. A person’s microbiome starts developing at birth, and a simple thing such as being born vaginally or via C-section can make a huge difference at the very beginning.
When you’re born vaginally, you become exposed to bacterial species while you’re exiting the birth canal, and these become a part of your gut microbiota. On the other hand, when you’re born through C-section, you’re missing out on this experience, and you’re not introduced to bacteria until the first person touches your skin with their skin, transmitting bacteria and forming your gut microbiome.
Next, you get exposed to gut bacteria through your mother’s breast milk, the environment, and later food and lifestyle choices which can either be beneficial to your health or harmful, increasing the risk of developing diseases.
A Healthy Gut Microbiome
The microbiota that makes your microbiome has a variety of important roles in your body:
- Help break down the food you’re eating, absorbing beneficial nutrients and getting rid of the potentially toxic compounds.
- Synthesize vitamins and amino acids such as B vitamins and vitamin K
- Support and stimulate your immune system, protecting you from diseases and inflammation
Carbohydrates break down into sugars and fiber, and when the indigestible fiber reaches your large intestine, the beneficial bacteria start breaking it down with their digestive enzymes. This causes fermentation and the creation of short-chain fatty acids which have an important role in the prevention of many diseases and illnesses such as autoimmune conditions, digestive disruptions, and certain cancers.
Gut Microbiome and Cancer
The connection between the health of your gut microbiome and cancer risk has been studied for decades, and new and emerging research has shown a direct correlation between the two. It seems that the gut microbiome has a direct influence on the initial development and progression of cancer and tumor cells, as well as an indirect influence through the immune system. Additionally, it can also have a strong effect on the success of cancer therapy as well as the survival rate.
Colorectal cancer specifically is directly affected by the health of your gut. It’s the third most common cancer worldwide and the number one reason for cancer deaths. Most studies including cancer and gut health have focused on this particular form of cancer and found that the intestinal microbiota can have a strong effect on altering one’s susceptibility to colorectal cancer, its progression, inflammation levels, and even cancer treatments.
These are incredibly important discoveries that are shining some hope in the prevention of cancer by focusing on the health of your gut microbiome.
How to Promote a Healthy Gut Microbiome?
Luckily, there are ways we can improve the health of our gut microbiome and we can all do it starting today. Here are some of the best tips for improving your gut microbiome and preventing diseases, illnesses, and in the end, cancer.
- Diversify your beneficial bacteria by eating a wide range of foods – different foods affect your digestive system in different ways, and eating a diverse diet can help lead to a more diverse gut microbiota
- Eat high-fiber foods – fiber acts as a prebiotic, or food for your gut bacteria. Some of the best foods you can add to your diet include artichokes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocado, beans, legumes, and whole grains
- Eat fermented foods – these foods are rich in beneficial bacteria that can enter your gut microbiome and replenish it, promoting a healthy balance between bad and beneficial bacteria. Some of the best fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and natto.
- Take probiotics – probiotics can either be taken through fermented foods or supplements. As supplements, they are isolated strains of good gut bacteria that enrich your gut microbiome and help restore balance
- Eat food rich in antioxidants – antioxidants are powerful plant compounds that help fight free radicals and their oxidative damage. They are incredibly important in preventing cancer and other chronic diseases as they have a strong effect on reducing inflammation and supporting your immune system.
- Abstain from inflammatory foods – it goes without saying that inflammation-promoting foods such as processed foods, sugar, and alcohol create unfavorable reactions in your body, causing your immune system to go into overload. Limit your consumption of these foods as much as you can and help your body find a healthy balance.
- Pay special attention to antibiotic intake – when you’re prescribed an antibiotic, it’s important to really focus on your diet and probiotic intake. Antibiotics can severely impact your gut microbiota and disrupt your microbial flora.
- Focus on improving your sleep – sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can have a negative effect on your intestinal microbiota, so it’s important to develop healthy sleeping routines and improve the quality of your sleep
- Reduce stress – probably the hardest tip to follow, but implementing stress-reducing techniques into your life is already a great first step toward reducing your stress hormones and helping lower your stress-induced inflammation.
Your gut health is directly connected to the development, progression, and treatment of various diseases, illnesses, chronic conditions, and cancer. Therefore, it’s crucial to implement tips and routines in your diet and lifestyle to help improve the health of your gut instead of harming it. This is, luckily, for the most part in your control. Don’t let it come to the stage where you need to repair the damage – focus on prevention.