Colon cancer may depend on balancing act in your gut
A variety of studies have focused on how bacteria in the gut can influence disease. Researchers have found specific gut bacteria that is common in the mouth that they have linked to colorectal cancer. They’ve also discovered a deficiency in other intestinal bacteria could mean your chances of colorectal cancer are higher.
According to the researchers, understanding which microbes raise a person’s chance of colon and rectal cancer could have major implications for preventing the disease that is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
Scientists from NYU Langone Medical Center have again linked certain bacteria in the gut to inflammation in the bowel, which in turn can lead to colorectal cancer.
The finding that is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found patients with colorectal cancer had high levels of Fusobacteria that is a common bacteria in the mouth, compared to healthy volunteers in the study.
This is not the first investigation to link between the mouth and intestinal bacteria to colon cancer, but it is the largest investigation to date that finds a clear link between the bacteria and cancer.
A study published in the August, 2013 journal Cell Host & Microbe also uncovered the role Fusobacteria might play in raising a person’s chance of the disease – as have numerous other investigations.
The good news is, based on the previous finding that Fusobacteria is common in the intestines of people with pre-cancerous colon changes, researchers are already working on a compound and have filed a patent for a compound that can protect colon health.
What is Fusobacteria?
The bacteria lives in our mouth. But it also lives in the intestines and thrives in an environment that does not require oxygen for growth – otherwise known as an anaerobic organism.
When the bacteria grow in large quantities that can happen from gum disease and poor dental hygiene, it causes periodontal disease. Fusobacteria can also cause infection anywhere in the body and is more prevalent among people with chronic medical conditions.
The new study
Even though intestinal bacteria has been previously linked to cancer of the colon and rectum, researchers haven’t been certain why.
In the new study, people with colorectal cancer not only had more Fusobacteria in the gut, but they also were depleted of a type of bacteria that helps digest carbohydrates and fiber, known as Clostridia – the bacterium that causes some types of food poisoning.
For the investigation, the researchers compared DNA from patients with colorectal cancer to healthy volunteers.
"Our findings are important because identification of these microbes may open the door for colorectal cancer prevention and treatment,” says Jiyoung Ahn, PhD, assistant professor of population health, and a member of NYU Cancer Institute, who led the study in a press release.
The study highlights the intricacies of bacteria in our intestines and the complexities of the body.
Clostridia is one of the first bacteria that form early in life that comprises 30 to 40 percent of the total gut flora. Clostridia indirectly modulates the immune system and plays other very specific roles in protecting the gut from other invading organisms. Tiny rod shaped Clostridia also help prevent inflammation in our colon.
What upsets intestinal balance?
Factors known to upset balance in the intestines to promote inflammation include:
- Antibiotic use
- Viral diseases
- Parasitic infection
Other factors implicated for poor colon health include:
- Processed meats
- Red meat
- High sugar diet
- Empty calorie foods such as white breads and rice
- Other medications such as acid reducers and pain medications (ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
- Eating too many refined grains
Diet and lifestyle factors are known to play a role in immunity and health. The bacteria in our gut can become imbalanced easily from making the wrong dietary choices and from chronic illnesses that have become more common.
In an accompanying editorial, Volker Mai, Ph.D., M.P.H., and J. Glenn Morris, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., T.M. from the University of Florida at Gainesville FL point out other factors that could influence the findings including genetics, obesity, exercise and diet that can all influence what lives in our gut.
The NYU Langone researchers plan to continue their studies to find out what dietary and lifestyle factors alter our gut bacteria to promote colorectal cancer. Keeping our intestinal microbes well-balanced could help prevent colorectal cancer, based on the new finding.