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U-M CCC - Progress Newsletter Summer 2003 Online

Preventing Colorectal Cancer with Nutrition
By Renee Curran, R. D.
U-M Cancer Center Nutrition Specialist

In March, 2003 the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center joined the American Cancer Society (ACS) in recognizing Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, devoted to focusing the attention of Americans on one of the deadliest cancers facing men and women today, but also one of the easiest to detect and prevent. Roughly 57,000 people die annually from colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in America, but the American Cancer Society estimates that with colon screenings as many as half of those deaths could be eliminated.

At the U-M Cancer Center, several initiatives were undertaken during March in support of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, many centered on encouraging people to take the vital step of screening. But making life-style changes can also help you cut your risk of colorectal cancer:

  • Don't smoke
  • Cut back on alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy body weight through a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and regular exercise
  • Avoid eating overcooked, red meat

When it comes to attacking those last two points, you can reduce your overall cancer risk by consuming a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, whole grains and legumes, and by maintaining your weight. In addition, current research has supported the relationship between folate, calcium and lutein and the prevention of colorectal cancers.

What's folate?

Folate is a B-complex vitamin, which may protect the genetic material in cells, such as DNA. Folate is found in green, leafy vegetables, wheat germ and fortified whole grain cereals to name a few.

What's lutein?

Lutein is a carotenoid and antioxidant found in green, leafy vegetables, bell peppers, asparagus, tomatoes and corn. Along with other antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E, and selenium), lutein has been shown to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

How does calcium help?

Calcium may bind to bile and fatty acids that can harm the colon and rectum. Calcium may prevent polyps from developing and recurring. Calcium is well-known for being available in dairy products, such as yogurt, milk and cheese, but it can also be found in small quantities in certain vegetables and legumes, such as broccoli and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). By including skim or low fat dairy products, the fat content will decrease, but the protein and calcium content will remain the same as their higher fat counterparts.

In support of Colorectal Awareness Month, I worked with fellow Cancer Center Nutrition Specialist Katie Haraminac, R.D., to compile a number of delicious recipes featuring foods rich in nutrients and phytochemicals -- chemicals from foods found specifically in plants. These dietary substances have been shown to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.

These recipes also contain antioxidants, including carotenoids. Antioxidants act as scavengers to inhibit "free radicals" within the body, which may damage cells. Carotenoids, beta-carotene being the most popular, are specific phytonutrients that give some fruits and vegetables their bright colors.

 

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This article is part of the Cancer Center's News Archive, and is listed here for historical purposes.

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