After skin cancer, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. People have a 1 in 20 (about 5%) risk of developing colon cancer at some point in their lifetime, and if it is diagnosed early, it can have a nearly 75% survival rate at 5 years. In addition to genetic factors, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise can all contribute to the development of colon cancer. One of the factors that can influence your risk of getting the disease, and how likely you are to survive it, is diet.
High Glycemic Foods Linked to Colon Cancer
Survival rates for stage 3 colon cancer are normally between 50% and 65%. A recent observational study of over 1,000 people with colon cancer was performed by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and their results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study found that those who consumed a diet rich in high-glycemic load foods, such as simple carbohydrates, had a nearly 80 percent greater risk of dying from colon cancer or of having a recurrence of the disease. There was a greater association when the subject was overweight or obese.
Insulin is believed to be one of the main factors in the development and recurrence of colon cancer. People with type 2 diabetes or elevated blood levels of a marker indicating continual insulin production called C-peptide have been shown to have an increased risk of colon cancer. Researchers believe that insulin plays a part in feeding cancer cells and preventing their death by apoptosis (programmed cell death that healthy cells all exhibit).
Experts stress that it is important to remember that not all carbs are bad, and what you should keep in mind is to substitute a variety of low glycemic load foods for the high ones you may be eating now. Associate professor of medicine at Dana-Farber, Dr. Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, lead author of the study, says “Different carbs and sugar lead to different responses in your body. I think people should focus on a well-balanced diet.”
How Different Foods Affect Blood Sugar
Our typical Western diet, filled with high amounts of refined carbohydrates, meat and unhealthy fats, plays a large role in how well people recover from colon cancer. Those following this type of diet have been shown to have an incidence of recurrence or death that is three times higher than those who follow a Western diet least, according to a previous study performed by Dr. Mayerhardt and colleagues.
The glycemic index gives each different food a number from 0 to 100 based on its ability to raise blood sugar. Carbohydrates such as refined flour, sugar and other carbs that turn to sugar quickly after eating score high on the scale in comparison with many vegetables, whole grains and legumes, which are digested more slowly and do not convert to sugar so quickly, causing insulin to spike.
Related to this is a slightly different index called the glycemic load (GL), which is how a standard serving of a food affects blood sugar. A glycemic load of 10 and below is low, a GL of 11 to 20 is moderate, and a GL of more than 20 is high. Researchers urge those who have colon cancer or who are at risk of it to keep the consumption of high GL carbohydrates to a minimum, as these in combination with other carbohydrates are more likely to raise your risk of the disease.
Study a list of low GI foods to see which ones you can use as a substitute for some of the high GI things you eat now. Meyerhardt says, “if you think about beverages, most juices and certainly sodas have a higher glycemic load than flavored waters and tomato juice and things like that. Fruits like a date or raisins have very high glycemic loads, whereas fresh fruits like an apple, orange or cantaloupe all have sugar but have a very low glycemic load. Substitute brown rice for white, whole grains instead of white bread, and instead of having a starchy potato as your side dish, substitute beans and vegetables.”