How Bad Bacteria Can Lead To Bowel Cancer (and how to cut your risk in half)

According to latest evidence, there is a link between Escherichia coli (Ecoli) and an increased risk of bowel cancer. But, there are ways to limit the risk posed by bacteria.

This link has been studies for a long time, when it was first publicized in the 19th century. Back then, Rudolf Virchow claimed that cancer could be a result of inflammation triggered by infections. Soon after, well known scientists Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur found bacteria in tumors.

Almost every inflammation is caused by bacterial infection. This happens when our immune system recognizes an infection, so it responses by releasing molecules called cytokines that help to cause inflammation.

While short-term stimulation of inflammatory cytokines is good and helps fight infections, chronic stimulation can contribute to cancer development. This Is the reason why researchers are interested in inflammation.

So far, many types of bacteria have been linked to cancer: Helicobacter pylori and stomach cancer, Salmonella typhi and gallbladder cancer, Streptococcus bovis and bowel cancer.

You digestive system is a home of trillions bacteria, among which hundreds of different species of bacteria living in your bowel alone. Bowel cancers are responsible for the fourth highest number of cancer-related deaths worldwide, but only a small percentage of bowel cancers are linked to genetic risk. Most of the cases occur randomly (sporadic cancers) or related to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD-associated cancers).

While most of the bacteria thriving In your body are harmless and quite helpful with digestion, producing vital vitamins and helping to repair damaged cells, there are bacteria that can cause serious damage to the body. Usually, ‘good’ bacteria and our immune system keep us safe from the harmful bacteria, but through life we make terrible decisions, like high-fat diets, smoking and stress which contribute to chronic inflammation.

This is when good bacteria fight and struggle to survive while some harmful, or “pathogenic”, bacteria thrive and multiply. The number of pathogenic bacteria is proportional to risk of a dangerous infection.

Let’s take E. coli as an example. We all have these bacteria in our body and some types of E. coli can be beneficial and used to treat disease; these can be found in most healthy people. But, inflammation increases the number of pathogenic E. coli and this can lead to disease.

It’s been found that patients who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancers have huge numbers of pathogenic E. coli living inside tumors. E. coli can stick to and invade the cells lining our bowels and replicate inside them. What’s worse is that these E. coli are capable of producing a toxic substance called colibactin that damages the DNA of bowel cells making them cancerous, and can help cancers to spread.

A healthier, high-fiber diet can help limit your bowel cancer risk and the impact of pathogenic bacteria. This is known as a “probiotic” effect where dietary fibers produce a substance called butyrate, which has natural anti-inflammatory properties and can help replenish probiotic bacteria too.

Moreover, plantains, bananas and broccoli contain dietary fibers that can block harmful bacteria from sticking to your gut cells and promote their passage out of the gut. The effect is known as “contrabiotic” and was recently shown to be effective against bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Vitamin D has also proven to be effective in eliminating pathogenic bacteria, particularly E. coli, even when they are already inside our cells. The deficiency of this vitamin is now associated with colon cancer.

Almonds, red onion s and chives contain high amounts of molecules known as flavonoids that have antibacterial properties and could help limit the effects of pathogenic bacteria.

Regular exercise helps maintain a normal bacterial diversity in the gut and could reduce your risk of bowel cancer by up to 50%.

Even simple anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin have shown to be able to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Future studies could confirm if anti-inflammatory drugs can really reduce the inflammation caused by infections and hence your bowel cancer risk.