Mon | Sep 20, 2021

Protecting your colon

Published:Wednesday | March 17, 2021 | 12:24 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Your colon is a key player in your digestive system, which processes and delivers nutrients throughout your body to keep you strong and healthy. As such, eating well and maintaining a nutritious diet is one of the best ways you can prepare for and recover from colon cancer treatments.

According to Dr Joy Callender, nutrition specialist, because your colon plays such a major role in proper digestion, your body will not get the necessary nutrients, fats, and proteins it needs to function properly while fighting cancer.

For this reason, she said, your diet plan should include foods that fulfil these needs. Additionally, cancer treatments like chemotherapy can be extremely difficult on your body, as they sometimes destroy healthy tissue as well as cancerous. To rebuild strength, Callender says there are some key areas to pay attention to.

“We need to boost the immune system to ensure that the body has adequate intake of antioxidants, foods high in carotenoids, for example, carrots and sweet potato. Increase natural vitamin C, for example, cherries and guavas, drinking green or white tea which are rich sources of catechins. Also increase the consumption of fresh fruits, herbs, mushrooms, vegetables daily,” Callender said.

“Powerful anti-cancer nutrients are in colourful fruits and vegetables, and fresh herbs. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant. Foods rich in selenium include shellfish, Brazil nuts, mushrooms and grains rich in selenium rich soils,” she added.

Colorectal cancer is one of the more common cancers in Jamaica. About one in 25 people will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. Research shows that habits related to diet, weight, and exercise are strongly linked to colorectal cancer risk.

Changing some of these lifestyle habits may be hard, but making the changes can also lower the risk for many other types of cancer, as well as other serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Callender said persons must avoid pro-inflammatory foods including sugars, high glycemic index foods, trans fats, red meat, high fat dairy, and avoid preserved, pickled and salted foods. “Include a rainbow of colours on your plate every day. These types of nutrients help to reduce cancer. The typical Jamaican diet is skewed the wrong way as most people have many servings of starch including rice, yam and banana, among others, and a small amount of vegetables,” she said.

According to Globacon 2018, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Jamaican men and the second most common cancer in Jamaican women. It is the third most common cancer in Jamaica. Everyone is at risk for colon cancer, especially those aged 45 to 50 years who have an increased risk of developing the disease.

The immune system is often weakened by cancer treatments and the body is susceptible to food-borne illnesses. Callender recommends that persons can use filtered or boiled water and all fruits and vegetables must be washed before peeling or eating.

“In addition, keep counters sanitised, eat leftovers within three days. No raw or rare meat or fish, no uncooked eggs and avoid unpasteurised beverages. Wash hands often, and do not eat the outer leaves of vegetables, for example, cabbage. Refrigerate all cooked, perishable foods within two hours of preparation, and avoid uncooked vegetables. No soft or mould ripened cheeses,” she said.

Callender added that foods high in calcium and vitamin D have also been found to be cancer-protective.

In recognition of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, Callender presented on behalf of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, at the Jamaica Cancer Society, Colon Cancer Medical Symposium, held on Sunday, March 14, 2021.

Nutrition for Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Certain risk factors for colorectal cancer can be reduced by:


If you are overweight or obese, weight loss is an important first step in reducing your risk of colorectal cancer development and recurrence. This increased risk comes from higher blood levels of insulin and related hormones that appear to encourage cancer growth. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9. Even if your BMI is far from the target range, a body weight loss of 10 per cent can reduce your cancer risk.


Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. Physical activity does not have to be expensive or difficult. You can walk around the block or in a local park. You can ride a bike or join a recreational league. As long as it makes your heart beat faster and your lungs breathe more deeply, you will get the benefits of physical activity. Choose activities that you enjoy. This way you will be more likely to continue doing them.


Plant-based, high-fibre diets that are moderate to low in red meat with minimal processed meat and alcohol have been shown to reduce colorectal cancer risk.


Vegetables: salad greens, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, etc. All varieties of vegetables have cancer-preventative properties so consuming a wide variety is the key. Research now shows that garlic is helpful in prevention of colorectal cancer so be sure to include it in your meals daily.

Fruit: berries, melon, apples, pears, oranges, bananas, etc. Whole fruit gives you the most benefits, so choose the whole fruit and limit or avoid fruit juices.

Whole grains and beans: quinoa, oats, black rice, barley, farro, wild rice, lentils, beans, etc. They are high in fibre which is protective against colorectal cancer. These foods contain many other substances that have been linked to lower cancer risk. It is for this reason that experts suggest increasing fibre intake from whole foods rather than supplements.


Red meat (beef, lamb, pork): the type of iron in red meat and certain other compounds can increase cancer risk. For this reason, it is recommended to consume 18 ounces or less of red meat weekly.

Processed meat (cold cuts, bacon, sausage and hot dogs): these items contain high levels of nitrates and sodium, which are both carcinogenic. It is recommended to eat processed meats rarely or not at all.

Fast food: high in calories making weight management more difficult. Also high in sodium but low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and fibre.

Alcohol: alcohol turns into cancer-causing compounds in the body. These compounds can also damage the cell lining of the colon. Avoid alcohol, or if you choose to drink, you should limit intake to 1 drink (12oz beer, 5oz wine, 1.5oz liquor) per day.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research