How a Healthy Gut Helps Manage Your Cancer Risk

How a Healthy Gut Helps Manage Your Cancer Risk
How a Healthy Gut Helps Manage Your Cancer Risk

Every day we live in harmony with the healthy bacteria that live in our gut.

The gut is home to over 40 trillion bacteria1, collectively known as the gut microbiota.

And like fingerprints are unique to a person, so too are the massive collection of microbes in our gut.2

The gut microbiome has started to receive a lot of attention lately with more and more evidence showing how the gut may influence cancer progression.

What is the Role of the Gut?

The gut is the largest immune organ in humans.3

Your gut is the primary site for communication between bacteria, the nervous system, and immune cells, like macrophages.

There are over ten times more bacterial cells in the gut4 than there are human cells in the body.

The surface area of the gut is one hundred times larger than that of the skin.5

Your gut has over 100 million nerve endings (neurons) that communicated bidirectionally with your central nervous system.

Your gut acts like a second brain (it’s the biggest collection of neurons outside your brain), creating connections (synapses with glia cells), communicating with your brain in 100 milliseconds (faster than a blink).3

It is therefore not surprising that the gut microbiota plays such a large role in our health.

And the gut is involved in more than just the digestion and absorption of the food that we eat. 4

The gut produces some vitamins (like folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin K).

The gut also regulates our immune system, secreting immune cells and anti-microbial agents.

Further to this, the gut lining helps protect against harmful bacteria invading the body by strengthening the intestinal barrier of the gut.

The gut even plays a role in regulating how energy is harvested from the food we eat and stored by our body, so may play a role in weight management.

What is the Link Between My Gut and Cancer?

Scientists think that the gut microbiome’s role in cancer is hugely important.

The gut microbiome has been linked to various cancers such as that of the liver6, lung7, pancreas8, prostate9, and colon.10

The immune system is well-known to be a dominant force11 in cancer management: research has shown that flaws in the immune system are linked to cancer progression.

The weakened immune system of the cancer patient also means poor responses to cancer therapies, like chemo and radiation.

As much as 65% of our immunity is found in the gut. This is why gut health, linked to immune health, influences cancer as adapting the gut microbiome may affect responses to different cancer therapies.12

Of all the cancers, the majority of the evidence supporting the role of the gut microbiota in influencing cancer development is linked to colorectal cancer.13

It is thought that the bad bacteria in the colon convert bile acids (made by the liver when the diet is high in bad fat and sugar) to cancer-causing agents.

Added to this, diets high in meat and fat and low in fibre change the composition of the gut microbes, increasing levels of the bad microbes (like Bacteroides and Clostridium) and decreasing levels of the good microbes (like Bifidobacterium).

This change causes more activity of certain enzymes, such as β-glucuronidase, azoreductase, urease, nitroreductase and glycocholic acid reductase.

These enzymes are associated with cancer-causing compounds, thus increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Can I Modify My Gut Microbiome?

A poor diet, stress, medication such as antibiotics and anaesthesia after an operation, and other factors can cause a substantial change in the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

In terms of diet, we know that diets high in refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and processed foods cause a harmful imbalance in the good and healthy gut bacteria.

Yet a diet rich in fibre and live cultures supports a healthy and balanced gut microbiota.

Feed your gut with fibre

Fibre is the part of the plant that cannot be broken down by the digestive enzymes in the gut.

The microbes of the gut feed off fibre to stay alive and multiply.

They do this by fermenting compounds called short-chain fatty acids.10

Short-chain fatty acids are the main energy source of the cells of the colon, making these compounds crucial in colon health.

Short-chain fatty acids also help with inflammation, prevent the growth of bad microbes, and increase levels of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium.

Our gut needs diverse types of fibres to keep it healthy, each of which has its own unique function:

  • Soluble fibre acts like a mop and helps absorb fluid in the gut, forming a soft, gelish mush that helps the stool to easily pass through the gut. This fibre is found in oats, oat bran, oranges, bananas, apples, carrots, berries, and legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
  • The other type of fibre is insoluble fibre, also referred to as roughage. Insoluble fibre acts like a broom, roughly sweeping through the length of the gut to remove waste. This type of fibre is found naturally in whole grains, bran, brown/wild rice, nuts, seeds, corn, and the skin of fresh produce.


It is also necessary to place a focus on fermented foods for gut health.

Fermented foods contain gut-enhancing benefits because of the live cultures that exist naturally in these foods.

Fermented foods with live cultures include yoghurt (Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus), South Africa’s traditional maas/amasi (Lactic acid bacteria), kefir, kimchi, fresh sauerkraut, and some cheeses.

There are some fermented foods that are further processed (by pasteurization, baking or filtering) which makes them no longer sources of live microbes.

These include sourdough bread, tempeh, beer, and wine.

The FitChef Difference

At FitChef, our foods support a healthy gut microbiota.

In our EatClean Range, we only use unrefined, high fibre starches like brown rice, wholewheat pasta, quinoa, oats, and bran, and refined, sugar-filled carbs are a no-go.

We’re also big fans of including more fibre-filled beans, chickpeas, and lentils in your diet.

You can also stock up on yoghurt, rich in live cultures for gut health fermentation, in the FitChef Dairy Aisle.

Our Cravings Range is less strict than our EatClean Range and focuses on healthier wholefood treat meals to help you settle the cravings and get back to stricter high fibre nutrient-dense whole foods.

References

  1. Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body. PLoS Biol. 2016;14(8).
  2. Franzosa EA, Huang K, Meadow JF, Gevers D, Lemon KP, Bohannan BJM et al. Identifying personal microbiomes using metagenomic codes. PNAS. 2015; 112(22):E2930–8.
  3. Kulkarni S, Ganz J, Bayrer J, Becker L, Bogunovic M, Rao M. Advances in enteric neurobiology: The “brain” in the gut in health and disease. Journal of Neuroscience, 2018;38(44):9346-9354.
  4. Oriach CS. Robertson RC, Stanton C, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Food for thought: The role of nutrition in the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Clinical Nutrition Experimental. 2016;6:25-38.
  5. Mayer EA, Tillisch K, Gupta A. Gut/brain axis and the microbiota. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2015;125(3):926–38.
  6. Yu LX, Schwabe RF. The gut microbiome and liver cancer: mechanisms and clinical translation. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2017;14:527–539.
  7. Zhuang H et al. Dysbiosis of the Gut Microbiome in Lung Cancer. Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol. 2019. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2019.00112.
  8. Ertz-Archambault N, Keim P, Von Hodd D. Microbiome, and pancreatic cancer: A comprehensive topic review of literature. World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(10):1899-1908.
  9. Porter CM, Shrestha E, Peiffer LB, Sfanos KS. The microbiome in prostate inflammation and prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases. 2018;21:345–354.
  10. Wang G et al. Role of SCFAs in gut microbiome and glycolysis for colorectal cancer therapy. Journal of Cellular Physiology. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcp.28436.
  11. Gopalakrishnan V, Helmink BE, Spencer CN, Reuben A, Wargo JA. The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Cancer, Immunity, and Cancer Immunotherapy. Cancer Cell. 2018;33(4):570-580.
  12. Mayer EA, Tillisch K, Gupta A. Gut/brain axis and the microbiota. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2015;125(3):926–38.
  13. Helmink BA et al. The microbiome, cancer, and cancer therapy. Nature Medicine. 2019;5:377-388.
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