A new study shows that eating dried plums could reduce the risk of colon cancer - here's why that's a bad thing for Americans.
Virtually nobody enjoys eating dried plums, or prunes, but they could play a key role in helping prevent against one of the deadliest kinds of cancer known today. According to a report from CTV News, a new study from researchers at Texas A&M University and the University of North Carolina shows how eating dried plums can alter the metabolism and bacterial makeup of the gut, helping to fight against colon cancer.
According to Dr. Nancy Turner, one of the study’s authors, there are trillions of different bacteria living in the microbial ecosystem of our digestive tracts, and over 400 distinct species have already been identified by scientists. Prior research indicates that disruptions to these microbial communities can lead to inflammation of the intestines, and recurring inflammation that can lead to the onset of colon cancer.
Dr. Turner explains how the study examined the potential cancer-stopping capabilities of dried plums as a food that can influence the overall makeup of the microbial communities living in our digestive systems. Dried plums are rich in phenolic compounds, which have many different types of effects on our health. One of their main functions is serving as an antioxidant.
The experiment wanted to specifically test the hypothesis that eating dried plums would lead to better retention of the more beneficial microbial species and metabolic functions throughout the large intestine. The scientists fed rats a diet rich in died plums and compared them to a group of rats that received a controlled diet.
After the two groups of rats had eaten their respective diets, the researchers examined the contents of various sections of their large intestinal tissues. They found that the rats who had eaten a diet of dried plums had an increased quantity of Bacteroidetes and a lowered amount of Firmicutes, two of the most commonly found bacteria in the large intestines. They found these varieties in the distal colon, which in turn had no effect on the amounts present in the proximal colon. Conversely, the rats that received just a control diet had a lower amount of Bacteroidetes and higher levels of Firmicutes.
The scientists also found that the rats that ate dried plums showed a significantly lower level of aberrant crypts, which are widely considered to be a signal of risk in precancerous lesions.
The reduction in aberrant crypts compared to the ratio of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes has led the researchers to believe that dried plums may have a serious influence on microbial communities in the gut and therefore the risk of developing colon cancer later on in life. Dr. Turner concluded that dried plums could help “establish seemingly beneficial colon microbiota compositions in the distal colon. Plums and prunes are both considered to have antioxidants that fight off against cancerous growths, but the study specifically examined the dried variety.
According to the Mayo Clinic, colon cancer is a serious disease. Colon cancer specifically refers to cancer in the large intestine, whereas cancer of the rectum only affects the last few inches of the colon. Together, the two types of cancers are referred to as colorectal cancers.
Most cases of colon cancer begin to develop out of small, benign clumps of cells known as adenomatous polyps. These polyps can develop over time into full-blown cancerous growths. They can begin small, and produce very few symptoms at first. Doctors recommend a regular colon screen to help identify polyps before they have a chance to grow and become cancerous.
One of the first signs that something may be wrong in your colon is a change in your bowel movements, which can include diarrhea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of your movements. Bleeding in the stool could also indicate the beginning of colorectal cancers, as can cramps, gas, or the inability to completely empty the bowels.
Most people don’t run into any symptoms during the polyp stage, and symptoms are caused by later stages of the disease. When the symptoms do appear they can vary widely in intensity, dependent upon the cancer’s size and its position within the colon.
If you notice any of these symptoms or another change in your bowel movements or overall colon health, you should make an appointment with a doctor immediately. Doctors can help you decide when it’s time to start screening for colorectal cancers, but they generally recommend that people begin to have tests carried out starting at age 50.
Researchers still aren’t quite sure what causes colon cancer. When a healthy cell in the large intestine becomes damaged and begins to replicate and divide, cancerous cells can replace functioning ones and spread throughout the entire body.
The precancerous polyps appear as mushroom-shaped clumps, and must be removed immediately to reduce the risk of having them turn into full-blown colorectal cancer.
In some cases, gene mutations that are inherited between generations can significantly increase the risk of cancer. Inherited mutations aren’t a fast-track for cancer, but they can increase a person’s risk significantly. Familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP, is a rare disorder that causes hundreds or thousands of polyps to develop throughout the colon and rectum. People with FAP are likely to develop the disease before age 40.
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC, is also referred to as Lynch syndrome, and people with this disorder generally see symptoms of colon cancer before age 50. People who suffer from these two genetic disorders should research their family history with their doctors to see if they are at a serious risk.
The good news is that there are certain steps you can take to help lower the risk of colon cancer. The bad news is that it will take a marketing genius to figure out a way to get Americans to eat more prunes.