March marks colorectal cancer awareness month. Each year, colorectal cancer claims 50,000 lives. This number could be significantly cut down with increased screening. In many cases, death from colorectal cancer is preventable with early intervention. But intervention isn’t the only thing that can help prevent colorectal cancer: lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of the cancer.
Here are a few lifestyle changes you can start working on TODAY to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:
- Fill up your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Sure, you’ve heard it a million times, but what if I told you it could decrease your risk of colon cancer by up to 50%? One particular nutrient in these foods may be key: fiber! So grab an apple or a handful of almonds and get chomping. Want to learn more about foods that are high in fiber? Check out this article from our friends at the Mayo Clinic. Another reason you should eat more of these foods is that they are high in B vitamins, which have also been linked to lower levels of colorectal cancer.
- Eat less red meat: The more red meat you eat, the higher your risk of colorectal cancer, especially if it’s processed. Try to swap out excess red meat for fish, poultry, or even whole grains and vegetables. Even small changes can make a difference. For instance, if you’re making a sandwich, use one less piece of meat. Also, avoid cooking at high temperatures and burning meat during the upcoming BBQs this summer, which can produce harmful chemicals.
- Skip happy hour: Alcohol is another factor that contributes to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Cut your risk by cutting back on the booze to no more than 2 drinks a day. Your colon will thank you later.
- Stop smoking: If you need one more reason to stop, smoking is correlated with higher rates of colorectal cancer. Kick the habit and save yourself from the cancer. Putting down that pack could save you from a future filled with chemo treatments or colon surgery.
- Check your Vitamin D levels: Next time you’re in for a checkup, ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D levels. Although there may be plenty of sunlight in California, it can be hard to get enough Vitamin D during the winter, not only because it’s easy to stay inside where it’s warm, but because it depends on the sun’s angle to the Earth. Plus, even if you wanted to go outside, your skin needs to be bare to make Vitamin D. A simple blood test can tell you what your levels are and if you need to supplement. Some research has found that getting 1,000 to 2,000 units daily may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
- Consider taking a calcium supplement: Having the right levels of calcium is important for a variety of reasons. The key, though, is not to over- or under-supplement. Consuming too much or too little calcium can be problematic. Some studies have shown that adding a calcium supplement can reduce your risk for colon cancer, but it’s important you talk to your doctor first.
- Work up a sweat: Active people experience lower rates of colon cancer. So grab a friend and head to the gym, a running club, or even a Zumba class in the park. Find an activity you enjoy and make it a regular part of your life. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week, 75 of which should be vigorous. Adding any exercise is a step in the right direction.