5 things to keep your colon healthy

For years, turning 50 came with a special birthday message from your primary care provider: Time to have a colonoscopy.

Now that message will be coming a bit sooner. Updated screening guidelines recommend that most people get their first colonoscopy at age 45.

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., and rates have been increasing in younger people. The change in the guideline is designed to help catch those cancers earlier, when they’re more likely to be curable.

No matter your age, there are five steps you can take to avoid developing colon cancer:

1. Eat your veggies and healthy fats.

Research has shown that the Western diet correlates to higher colon cancer rates. People who eat high-fiber diets are less likely to develop the disease. Limit the amount of meat you eat, especially processed meats. Focus on consuming healthy fats found in olive oil, salmon rich in Omega-3, avocados and nuts, as well as limiting low-processed fats found in fried food.

2. Get moving.

You know exercise benefits your heart and can help you maintain your weight. It also may lower your risk of developing some types of cancer, including colon cancer. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.

3. Watch your weight.

According to the American Cancer Society, carrying extra pounds increases your risk of colon cancer and cancers of the rectum, esophagus, pancreas, kidney and breast in postmenopausal women, among others. Talk to your health care team if you need help losing weight.

4. Limit alcohol and don’t smoke.

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so moderately. That means no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. And if you smoke, quit. Your health care team can offer tips or refer you to a program to help you stop.

5. Follow screening guidelines.

It’s so important that we’re going to end where we began. One of the most important cancer prevention strategies is following the colon cancer screening guidelines based on age, risk factors and family history. Multiple colon cancer screening options are available.

A colonoscopy is more than a screening tool. It can reduce your risk for colon cancer by discovering precancerous changes, called polyps, and removing them before they develop into cancer.

Read more about colorectal cancer:

Salwa Bakkali-Derksen, D.O., sees patients in Internal Medicine in Owatonna, Minnesota, and has special interest in digestive health.


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