The microbiome is a complex, intricate ecosystem of microorganisms in the gut. It contains up to 100 trillion bacteria in the gut and more than 4 pounds of microbes. Bacteria can be good or bad, but it’s the balance of good and bad bacteria that keeps us healthy. Both probiotics and antibiotics (and overuse of antibiotics) can disturb the delicate balance of our little friends in the gut. Research suggests that some types of probiotics can help keep these gut microbes in check, but not only that—they can also lower your risk of colon cancer!
What is colon cancer? Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow out of control and have the potential to cause harm to normal body tissue. When it originates from the colon or rectum, it’s called colorectal cancer or colon cancer. Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading killer in the United States. Some common symptoms are the following:
- Change in bowel habits
- Blood in or on bowel movements
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps
- Unexplained weight loss
However, polyps (clumps of cells that can develop into colon cancer) or colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms. Because of this, it’s important to regularly get screened and limit your risk for colorectal cancer.
Risk factors for the disease include aging, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, family history, certain genetic syndromes, and a multitude of lifestyle choices. Factors that increase the risk for colon cancer include:
- Inactive lifestyle
- Diet low in fruits and vegetables
- A low-fiber or high-fat diet, or a diet high in processed meats
- Alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
Gut Microbiome, Probiotics, and Reducing the Risk of Colon Cancer
Several of the risk factors above are linked to the inner workings of the gut microbiome. Researchers have observed specific dysbiosis markers (imbalance in the microbiome) in patients with colon cancer. Gut microbiota can either facilitate or prevent colon cancer by several mechanisms . First, during digestion, they create certain metabolites or byproducts that can promote or protect against carcinogenesis (transformation of normal cells into cancer cells). Second, our gut microbiota directly affects inflammation levels in the gastrointestinal system, which is connected to colon cancer risk. Scientists are evaluating other complex processes through which the gut microbiome affects cancer development, like DNA damage.
Why is this so important? This research impacts the future of probiotics for cancer prevention and therapy. In other words, taking a daily probiotic is an active step towards lowering your risk of colon cancer. There are several specific microbes that researchers frequently associate with colon cancer development:
- Fusobacterium nucleatum
- Enterotoxigenic Bacteroides fragilis
- Escherichia coli ( coli)
An overabundance of these types of bacteria may raise an individual’s risk for colon cancer. Others may play a positive role through their function in the gut microbiome, such as the digestion of dietary fiber, or prebiotics. Certain Clostridium and Faecalibacterium species produce molecules (short-chain fatty acids and their products) that mediate, inhibit, and prevent colon cancer carcinogenesis.
Certain probiotics can promote and preserve friendly bacteria in your gut. Floré’s personalized probiotics, crafted just for you based on your gut microflora test, will support you and your unique health needs along your gut health journey