Increasing Incidence of Colorectal Cancer in Ages 20-40

A recent New York Times article cites a growing trend in Colorectal cancer, which has doubled and quadrupled for populations under 50 since 1950 for colon and rectal cancer respectively. Known risk factors include eating red meat, heavy alcohol use, Smoking, lower fiber diet, Type II Diabetes and Irritable Bowel Disease.

While conventional doctors are at a loss to explain the increase in Colorectal cancer in younger populations, as a functional medicine doctor the answer seems obvious. More and more patients are coming into their primary care doctors with digestive disorders due to imbalances in their microbiome and food sensitivities, which can be caused from chronic use of antibiotics, immunosuppressive steroids or other medications like Acutane. These can also be due to contamination of the food supply with potent pesticides, which are known carcinogens like Glyphosate, a common chemical used to reduce disease in GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops.

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Colon and Rectal Cancers Rising in Young People

Further study of the microbiome has revealed that the contribution of our digestive flora to our health is much greater than we had ever anticipated. Pathogenic bacteria, yeast or parasites can upset this balance causing chronic immune stimulation that sets up a chronic inflammatory response in the body. Inflammation in the digestive tract than sets up malabsorption of nutrition and increased likelihood of food sensitivities due to increased intestinal permeability.

In the past 10 years more sensitive microbiome analysis tools have become available and we now have the ability to detect imbalances and pathogens that would usually go undetected on a stool test at Quest or Lab Corp. We can learn about markers of malabsorption of protein and various fats, levels of immune stimulation and intestinal permeability, biomarkers of healthy flora and overgrown flora as well as cultures to detect pathogenic bacteria, yeast and parasites. We can then tailor a treatment to your particular needs given those results. This may include digestive enzymes to aid with malabsorption, a probiotic fit for your specific condition, nutrients to help reduce inflammation and heal the lining of the digestive tract and nutraceutical or pharmaceuticals to treat any pathogenic flora.

Outside of the content of the food that we eat, an increase in environmental pollutants as well as food chain contaminants and anti-nutrients like Glyphosate and high fructose corn syrup create a more inflamed gut, which cultivates the wrong flora.

Food sensitivities that develop due to increased intestinal permeability continue the inflammatory process by exposure to typically benign foods like romaine lettuce or lemon. Detecting these food sensitivities is often debated due to flaws in some of the more popularly used lab tests for occult food sensitivities. I recommend using ELISA ACT Bio-Technologies, which evaluates both IgG (symptoms often delayed by 3-7 hours) and T Cell mediated (symptoms can be delayed by 3-7 days), which make up the bulk of food sensitivities. Most immunologists will not test for T Cell mediated immune reactions and the test is not offered at Quest or Lab Corp. Because it is not offered on this mass level and is performed by a specialty lab only, it is viewed as not reliable by most conventional immunologists. Other delayed food sensitivity tests do have their flaws like being machine automated, which will pick up more false positives such as an immature red blood cell being recognized as an immune reaction due to its larger size, as well as only testing for IgG and thus missing any T Cell mediated reactions. I have found the ELISA ACT test very reliable and when my patients test each of these foods it often has profound results that are reproducible.

Addressing other nutritional deficiencies including proteins, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins can be an important adjunct to optimize the system in which the healing of the gut takes place. Hormone imbalances can be caused and can cause digestive imbalance so lab evaluation for these factors can be critical to successful treatment in some cases.

Mind-body exercises, stress reduction, environmental health ( i.e. mold exposure), proper sleep-wake cycle and a healthy Musculoskeletal system all can play into digestive health. The above testing should be a part of a coordinated functional medicine evaluation to determine what the key factors are that contribute to the digestive imbalance. On some level, all of these systems should always be working together, which is the ideal state of health.

With an increasing rate of colorectal cancer in younger populations seemingly without cause, all of the above factors which contribute to a more inflamed digestive tract but are not currently part of the conventional medical paradigm should be strongly considered for inclusion. Until that point the San Francisco Institute for Integrative and Regenerative Medicine will continue to treat patients in a way that provides a model for the future.

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