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Poor Metabolic Health a Risk Factor for Colon Cancer

Obesity is a risk factor for several cancers, including colon cancer, but other factors play in as well.


You probably already know that being overweight increases your risk of developing colon cancer, but the scale doesn’t have the final say. Even if your weight is within the “ideal” range, if you have other factors associated with poor metabolic health, your risk is still increased. And, unfortunately, about 30% of normal weight adults have many of these factors.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of health factors that is most commonly associated with heart disease and diabetes. The five metabolic factors that increase risk are:

• A large waistline, or excess fat in the stomach area. This also is called abdominal obesity or "having an apple shape."

• A high triglyceride level (or you're on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.

• A low HDL cholesterol level (or you're on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.

• High blood pressure (or you're on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.

• High fasting blood sugar (or you're on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Even mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

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A new study finds that metabolic syndrome not only increased heart disease risk, but also increases your risk of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in the United States.

Researchers used data from the Women’s Health Initiative that included information about more than 5,000 postmenopausal women. The team selected only patients who were of “normal” BMI, meaning they were not considered overweight. The researchers looked more closely at these women’s metabolic health and found that those who did have two or more of the factors listed above had a 49% increased risk for colon cancer.

"Our finding that normal-weight U.S. women who are metabolically unhealthy have an increased risk of colorectal cancer compared with those who are metabolically healthy highlights how important it is for women to be aware of their metabolic health status, which can be assessed using standard clinical tests," said the lead author.

So how can you decrease your risk?

First, knowledge is everything. Get a comprehensive physical exam and know your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Find out where you fall within the healthy weight guidelines.

Second, get some exercise. Not only will it help you lose any excess weight you carry, but it can also help lower blood sugar levels, improve cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure.

Second, eat a more healthful diet. Decrease the amount of junk foods, processed foods, sugary snacks and fatty fast foods you eat. Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts/seeds. Look into the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet for ideas on meal plans.

Journal Reference:
Xiaoyun Liang, et al. Metabolic Phenotype and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in Normal-Weight Postmenopausal Women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, January 2017 DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0761

Photo Credit:
By Buclin - http://www.docteur-beury.fr/IMG/arton16.jpg, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons