Fill up on your fibre
We need to get over our embarrassment around talking about poo. That's the message from bowel cancer awareness campaigners in June, Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. It's just poo, after all, and keeping an eye on what's going on in the No 2 department - and not being scared to talk about it - can literally save our lives.
Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa calls bowel cancer "New Zealand's cancer", because we have one of the highest rates in the world in the disease. Each year about 3000 people are diagnosed and more than 1200 will die - the same as the deaths from breast and prostate cancer combined. The sad thing about that statistic is that if detected early, bowel cancer has a 75 per cent cure rate. So don't sit on your symptoms - anything unusual needs to be talked about with your doctor.
In terms of prevention, diet can have quite an impact on your risk of developing the disease, so it's worth keeping an eye on, especially if you have a family history of bowel cancer. It makes sense that a balanced diet full of colourful veges will get you off to a good start. Fibre is really important: That means not only plenty of fibre, but a good range of fibre, too. We need a wide range of fibre to give us the best chance of optimal bowel health; the different types of fibre all perform different important tasks in our guts. So make sure your fibre doesn't all come just from veges - include a range of whole grains, nuts, beans and legumes too.
Another thing to look at and possibly tweak in your diet is red meat. High consumption of meat and processed meat is considered a major risk factor for bowel cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). That doesn't mean you need to turn vegetarian. Just try to keep serving sizes small - about 125g of meat per serve is just right - and include a couple of meat-free meals each week. If you're in the habit of eating bacon, ham or salami regularly it's worth cutting back. The fund recommends avoiding processed meats (including salami, ham, bacon and luncheon meat). They say there is strong evidence that processed meats are a cause of bowel cancer.
There's some interesting research around dairy and bowel cancer. In 2011, scientists at the University of Otago found the risk of bowel cancer was 30 per cent lower in New Zealanders who had drunk school milk daily. The reduction in risk was greatest in those who'd had 1200 or more half-pint bottles of milk over their time at school; the researchers believe the calcium provided by the first free school-milk programme could be responsible for the dramatic reduction in the risk of bowel cancer for people born between 1938 and 1953. A good motivation to keep up your intake of dairy products.
Other important measures - drinking in moderation, exercising regularly and not smoking - will also lower your risk. And, as with many other diseases, so will being a healthy body weight.
Sunday Star Times