Here is a sobering statistic: According to the American Cancer Society, Black people are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from colorectal cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. While the reasons for this aren’t decidedly known, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition may have found one factor that plays into this statistic. The study found that Black Americans had, on average, a reduced polyphenol intake than white Americans—and low polyphenol intake may be linked to a higher risk of colon cancer.
The Link Between Polyphenols & Colorectal Cancer
You have probably heard of polyphenols—they’re a group of cancer-protective antioxidants. “Polyphenols help to decrease the risk of cancer cells from forming,” says Molly Myers, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. “Fruits, vegetables, olive oil, coffee, dark chocolate, and green, black and white teas are good sources of polyphenols.”
Polyphenols can help prevent all types of cancers, but because of where colon cancer is located, they may have a unique benefit in preventing colon cancer—especially olive oil. “It seems that olive oil can reach high concentrations in the colon, so the protective benefits there are highest,” says Myers. “Even just using two teaspoons of olive oil helps—it doesn’t take a lot.”
That’s the takeaway here—you don’t have to completely overhaul your diet to get enough polyphenols. Here are some easy ways to bolster your diet:
- Swap store-bought salad dressing for olive oil and lemon juice.
- Cook with olive oil instead of canola oil.
- Grab a few handfuls of berries as a snack. If they’re not in season, frozen works just as well--especially in a smoothie.
- As an afternoon pick-me-up, trade in your milk chocolate for dark chocolate.
- Are you a coffee drinker? Go ahead, keep drinking it. Just watch your caffeine intake!
- If you love tea, make it black, green or white tea—those are the teas with the highest concentration of polyphenols.
More Ways To Stay Vigilant About Colorectal Cancer
Because the rate of colorectal cancer is also rising in young people, the American Cancer Society recommends that those with average risk of colorectal cancer start screenings at age 45 instead of the previously recommended age 50. The main method of screening is colonoscopy. You can also:
- Eat foods with lots of fiber. Whole grains, broccoli, lentils and black beans are filled with fiber and can help keep bowel movements regular.
- Drink plenty of water. Water is essential for keeping your colon clean.
- Exercise regularly. A study found that the most physically active people had a 24% lower risk of colon cancer than those who were the least physically active.
- Get an annual physical. Keeping your doctor in the loop of any symptoms or changes in your health is so important, not just for early cancer detection but for your overall health and well-being.
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Molly Myers is a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Henry Ford Cancer Institute.