A bowl of plain yogurt with strawberries and blueberries.

Probiotics and the colon — a perfect fit

A bowl of plain yogurt with strawberries and blueberries.

Contributed by Angela Hummel

When we hear the word 'bacteria,' we don’t think of the word 'healthy.'  Most often the word 'bacteria' usually conjures up images of dirt, spoilage or sickness. Many times bacteria can be linked to those descriptions, but there are other kinds of good bacteria that live in our intestinal tract, which benefit our health in many ways. The term probiotic is used to describe these healthy bacteria.

Often referred to as friendly or good bacteria, probiotics are live lactic acid-producing microorganisms that can be found in our digestive tract. Probiotics exert numerous health advantages, such as maintaining gut integrity, regulating bowel movements, improving lactose intolerance, improving immunity, and helping prevent bacterial overgrowth and yeast infections.

Prebiotics are different from probiotics because they are indigestible; in fact prebiotics are carbohydrates that act as fuel for the probiotics. Prebiotics are linked to benefitting our health because they support the growth or activity of the healthy bacteria found naturally in our intestines. Probiotics and prebiotics have a symbiotic relationship and work at their best when used together.  An example of a symbiotic food is the dairy drink Kefir because it contains both probiotics, over ten healthy strains of bacteria, and the food they need to survive and flourish.

Consuming an appropriate amount of probiotics is important for most of us but studies show that probiotics may be very beneficial for people with colon cancer. There will be approximately 136,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in 2014.1 Colon cancer develops when damage has occurred to the cellular DNA – leading to the initiation of cancer. Some studies have shown that fermented milk products such as cheese, yogurt or kefir have anti-mutation effects, which could inhibit DNA mutations that lead to tumor growth.

In addition, studies have shown that probiotics possess colon cancer protective effects by altering the growth process of tumor cells.  When prebiotics are consumed from carbohydrates such as bran cereal or oatmeal they begin to ferment in the colon and produce short chain fatty acids, which have also seemed to produce anti-cancer properties.

A healthy colon is important for preventing colon cancer as well as reducing colon cancer recurrence. Here are some strategies to incorporate more pre/probiotics in your diet:

  • A bowl of oatmeal with bananas, both contain prebiotics and is certainly a yummy way to start the day.
  • Miso paste contains numerous probiotics, is low in calories and is high in B vitamins. Try using a small amount in dressing or use it as your excuse to have a Japanese-style dinner.
  • Yogurt is full of health bacteria for your gut. Use it in smoothies, mix it with fruit and granola or just have it on its own.
  • Homemade or store-bought-refrigerated sauerkraut contains probiotics through the fermentation process, just make sure the bottle reads, “Contains live active cultures”.
  • Honey is filled with probiotics; sprinkle some on your fruit for a snack or use it as a natural sweetener.
  • Use buttermilk, sour cream, or other fermented-type products in recipes.
  • Experiment with new things like Kefir, Greek-style yogurt, or miso.

Angela Hummel is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition at  Meals to Heal. She is passionate about helping people meet the many challenges of managing health throughout cancer treatment. Angela studied nutrition at Central Michigan University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree, dietetic internship and master’s degree. She has worked in the inpatient, outpatient and community oncology settings for many years. Currently, she is part of the clinical team at Meals to Heal where she counsels people on oncology nutrition and contributes to clinical website and other Meals to Heal content.



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