There are many factors that influence colon cancer development. Genetics, body weight, activity level, and food choices all play a role in our colon health, as well as the composition of the gut itself. Trillions of tiny microbes known as microbiota (or gut bacteria) aid in digestion, extract energy from food, build immunity, prevent obesity, and protect against infection. Newer research shows that gut flora may influence the replication of genes within cells, including tumor suppressor genes, which can affect your risk for colon cancer.

When you are at optimum health, the good bacteria comprise about 90 percent of your gut flora. This balance can be offset by sickness, stress, poor diet, or medications such as antibiotics. In a matter of a few days, a course of antibiotics can destroy much of the healthy bacteria in the intestines. When the ratio of good bacteria to bad is disrupted, it can lead to inflammation, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, constipation, or a weakened immune system.

Maintaining a balance of gut bacteria is very delicate. Living microorganisms called probiotics can be beneficial in establishing healthy digestion and immunity or rebuilding a colony of healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics can help ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), promote regularity, and prevent infection and inflammation. Probiotics also can facilitate the regrowth of helpful bacteria after antibiotic use or a bowel preparation for a colonoscopy.

The most natural forms of probiotics are in fermented foods. Fermented foods, by definition, have undergone chemical alternation that produces digestive-friendly enzymes, bacteria and nutrients. Food labels may include words such as raw, lacto-fermented or unpasteurized. This means that the beneficial bacteria have not been killed in the manufacturing process.

Some examples are:

  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi- a mixture of spicy, pickled vegetables like cabbage, carrots and radishes that are full of lactobacilli.
  • Kefir- cultured milk that contains beneficial bacteria and yeast
  • Sauerkraut- fermented cabbage that is tart and zingy
  • Probiotic supplement

The most effective probiotics will state that there are “billions of live cultures” contained. To maximize the effects of probiotics, it is also important to eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and  high in fiber. These types of foods feed probiotic bacteria. Some foods promote the growth of harmful gut bacteria that compete with healthy gut bacteria. Avoid foods such as processed foods, wheat products, sugar, hydrogenated fats, alcohol, and high fructose corn syrup, which compromise digestive health.