Sometimes the subjects we shy away from are the important ones, so we’re just going to put it out there… it’s time to talk about poo.
Why? Well, we’re all becoming more aware of our gut health and microbiome, but it doesn’t stop there. Our bowel movements are the end product of the digestive system and our stools can provide an insight into our general health. If there’s something not quite right at that end, then it’s time to pay more attention. And that’s especially important because bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Guernsey, with approximately 40-45 new cases detected each year. However, the good news is that early detection can save lives. Over 90% of those diagnosed in the early stages are treated successfully.
So let’s start with tips for regular, healthy bowel movements with a list of ways you can support your digestive system, which in turn will help you reduce your risk of bowel cancer. As you might expect when focusing on the digestive system, lifestyle, diet and exercise are key.
Regular bowel movements are a sign of a healthy digestive system but what is ‘normal’ for you may be different to someone else. So it’s important to know your body and be in tune with your body’s natural rhythms. That will help you to spot any changes early on and take proactive steps to look after your health.
Staying hydrated is really important for healthy and efficient digestion. It helps to break down food so that your body can absorb all of the nutrients and it also keeps things moving (as in, it prevents constipation). Aim for 6-8 glasses of fluid a day - more if it is hot or if you are exercising or are physically active.
Bowel Cancer Guernsey advise eating a varied diet, one that is high in fibre to protect against bowel cancer, aiming for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Eat whole foods that your body can work to break down and process well. Avoid too many heavily processed foods. They also recommend that you limit the amount of red meat you consume, so keep your protein sources varied too.
Being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can help you to lower your risk of bowel cancer. There are lots of simple ways to be a little bit more active every day. It can be as simple as parking further away from work, taking the stairs instead of the lift or scheduling a walking meeting into your working week. Or meet a friend for a walk instead of a sit down coffee.
A global review found a strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of bowel cancer. Quite simply, the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher their risk of developing the disease. If you’re concerned, try reading How To Recognise If You're Drinking Too Much... And What You Can Do About It.
It's well documented that smoking increases the risk of cancer, and bowel cancer is no exception. If you’re looking for ways to break the habit, take a look at these tips to help you stop smoking.
The most common sign of bowel cancer is a change of bowel habit which lasts for a few weeks without returning to normal (hence your need to know what is normal for you body in the first place). These initial changes can include:
1. Loose motions or diarrhoea.
2. Unexplained constipation.
3. Going to the toilet more frequently than normal, or trying to.
4. Bleeding from your bottom.
5. Feeling more tired for no obvious reason.
6. A pain or lump in your tummy.
7. Unexplained weight loss.
8. Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.
Although it is important to stress that most people with the above symptoms don't result in a bowel cancer diagnosis. Other gut health problems and medical conditions can cause similar symptoms. However, if you are experiencing any of the above, or if things just don't feel right, you should talk things through with your GP.