March; Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Increased Colon Cancer in Young Adults; Is it our Diet?

Colon cancer, once predominantly associated with older age groups, is now becoming a concerning health issue among young adults 20-40 yrs old. While genetics and environmental factors certainly play a role, emerging research from Mayo clinic, Harvard, and the Cochran library, just to name a few, suggests that dietary patterns significantly influence the risk of developing colon cancer in younger populations. Lets get scientific, by exploring how dietary choices can impact colon cancer risk and provide insights into preventive measures young adults can take to reduce their susceptibility to this disease.

The Rise of Colon Cancer in Young Adults:

Traditionally, colon cancer has been considered a disease of aging, with the majority of cases occurring in individuals over 50. However, recent studies have shown a disturbing trend – an increasing incidence of colon cancer among young adults under the age of 501. This shift has prompted an investigation to discuss potential factors beyond genetics and environmental influences, leading to a focus on dietary habits1.

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The Role of Dietary Patterns:

Dietary patterns encompass the overall composition and quality of an individual’s diet over time. While specific foods and nutrients have been studied in relation to colon cancer risk, research increasingly highlights the importance of overall dietary patterns. Diets high in processed meats, sugary beverages, refined grains, and low in fruits, vegetables, and fiber have been linked to an elevated risk of developing colon cancer1.

The Impact of Westernized Diets:

The Western dietary pattern, characterized by its high intake of red and processed meats, fried foods, and refined grains, has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer1. These dietary choices contribute to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and alterations in gut microbiota, all of which can promote carcinogenesis within the colon1. Findings concluded the following:

Low fiber diet (+) Decreased colonic motility causing increased exposure to fecal carcinogens; stimulates butyrogenic activity, which is anti-neoplastic
 Sugar-sweetened beverages (+) Induce insulin resistance; fructose may cause dysbiosis and increase gut permeability
 Red/processed meats (+) Exposure to mutagenic compounds including N-nitroso compounds, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
High fat diet (+) Increased bile acid metabolism with bile acid conversion to deoxycholic acid

Practical Tips for Young Adults:

While genetics play a role in cancer susceptibility, young adults can significantly reduce their risk of colon cancer by adopting healthy dietary habits:

1. Increase intake of fruits and vegetables: Aim for a diverse range of colorful fruits and vegetables to ensure a variety of nutrients and antioxidants.

2. Choose whole grains: Opt for whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread over refined grains to boost fiber intake.

3. Limit fatty red and processed meats: Minimize consumption of red and processed meats, opting for leaner protein sources like poultry, fish, and legumes.

4. Incorporate healthy fats: Include sources of healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish to support overall health and reduce inflammation.

5. Increase fiber: Increased fiber in the diet is linked to an increase in colonic motility, this decreases the exposure to fecal carcinogens by decreasing the time that fecal matter stays within the bowels.

6. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water and limit intake of sugary beverages, which have been linked to increased colon cancer risk.

In Conclusion: As the incidence of colon cancer rises among young adults, it’s essential to recognize the influence of dietary patterns in this disease development. By adopting balanced and nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, young adults can empower themselves to reduce their risk of colon cancer and promote long-term health and well-being. Making informed dietary choices today can lead to a healthier, longer life, free from the burden of preventable diseases like colon cancer. Bottom line is: everything in… say it with me….. moderation

EAT THE RAINBOWThis months phytonutrient color: Green

These foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals like sulforaphane, isothiocyanates, and indoles, which inhibit the action of carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds).examples are: spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kiwi, collard greens, green tea, green herbs such as mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)

References:1) Dharwadkar P, Zaki TA, Murphy CC. Colorectal Cancer in Younger Adults. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2022 Jun;36(3):449-470. doi: 10.1016/j.hoc.2022.02.005. Epub 2022 May 13. PMID: 35577711; PMCID: PMC9177054.

Alexis Blaser
Alexis Blaser, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Teton Valley Health Care