Cancer and constipation. What do those two have in common, except for the fact that they both begin with the letter “C”? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s take a quick look at the process of digestion to understand how chronic constipation can lead to breast cancer specifically. By the way, many other cancers are also associated with constipation.
Stages of Healthy Digestion
The initial stage of digestion includes eating, breaking food down in the stomach, and then the further breakdown and absorption of nutrients throughout the small intestine. In the first stage, the food is liquified. The ileocecal valve (ICV) is the point where the small intestine connects to the large intestine (colon). This is where the first stage ends.
In the second stage, once the liquified food enters your colon, it moves up your ascending colon (on your right side), across the body through the transverse colon, and down the descending colon (on your left side) toward your anus. In a healthy colon, the contents become more and more solid through this journey. One of the main functions of the colon is to efficiently absorb liquid from the contents to create a firm stool that can be passed easily.
Ideally, this entire process should take between 18 and 48 hours.(1) Shorter times indicate conditions like diarrhea or bowel irritability, and longer times may indicate constipation issues. Medical professionals disagree as to what “normal” is regarding transit time through the colon. In our society “normal” seems to be associated with “average” rather than “optimum function”. Some professionals may state that 30 to 40 hours in the colon alone can be expected. However, most integrative and natural physicians will agree with the timing I have provided above. As a colon hydrotherapist, I have also noticed when transit time is as I stated, digestion is more efficient.
Relating Cancer and Constipation
The longer the matter stays in the colon, the more water is extracted from the stool. The feces become harder and more difficult to pass. Constipation.
Also, the longer feces remain in the colon, the more harmful bacterial toxins are created. Research has shown that chronic constipation may lead to issues like colorectal cancer, chronic renal disease, and autism.(2)
As a side note, I described the colon as nicely heading up, across, and down inside your body, as you’ll see on most anatomical charts. Truthfully, it doesn’t actually look like that in most of us. Normal structural deviations may contribute to bowel issues.
Although both men and women suffer with constipation, women more commonly experience this issue. Many may not even realize they have a problem. Sadly, it is not unusual for a woman to only have a bowel movement every 3 or 4 days, or even once a week! Oh my goodness, imagine the toxic buildup!
Breast Cancer and Constipation – How are they linked?
One of the liver’s many jobs is to change estrogen into various other forms (metabolize them) and also to eliminate any excess estrogen via the feces and urine. There are actually a number of different estrogens and their metabolites, not just one. Some are considered “good” and others “bad” with regard to health. Excess estrogen has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in numerous studies.(3)
As mentioned above, excess estrogens are secreted by the liver into the intestine and then passed to the colon for removal. However, if you are constipated and the fecal matter is just sitting there, a process called intrahepatic recirculation occurs.
What that means is that the estrogens that should be eliminated end up being reabsorbed then sent back to your liver through your circulation and cause estrogen to build-up in your body. This situation potentially sets you up for breast cancer down the road! Now can you see how gut health can be so important to breast health?
Tip – moving your bowels is one of the most important actions you do daily. Some people normally have 2 to 3 sessions in a day – that’s all good.
It’s especially important to note how much fecal matter you actually release. It’s not only about how many bowel movements you have daily but how much fecal matter is actually expelled.
The entire colon, in most people, is approximately 5 feet long, with the descending portion measuring 10 or more inches. That means that ideally, you would like for the descending colon to empty completely on a daily basis. That adds up to, all bowel movements combined, approximately a foot of poop.
Tip – Transit time is how long it takes for food to travel from your mouth to your anus.(4) An easy way to figure that for yourself is to jot down the time that you eat some corn or beets, or another food you can easily notice in your stool. Then observe your stool and notice how long it takes until you see that food again (in the john).
Dehydration and lack of exercise are commonly associated with both occasional and chronic constipation. Awareness and willingness to shift habits come into play here. Make a goal to drink half your weight (in ounces) of water daily. These days there seem to be hundreds of flavored waters available, for those who don’t enjoy plain water. And be sure to get outside (or on a treadmill or bicycle) to stimulate your entire body, along with your colon.
As for dietary choices, there are so many excellent diets these days. Look for one that offers a large percentage of vegetables, fruits, and grains. These foods support healthy bowel movements through their fiber content.
Don’t be at all discouraged. Relieving constipation is not rocket science!
Support Proper Bowel Function
My hope is that by now recognizing that chronic constipation can be a contributing factor to breast cancer, you are even more motivated to “get those bowels moving”.
Let’s look at a few easy additions to your daily routine that will do just that!
- Natural Laxative
Magnesium deficiency is rampant in our society.(5) Look for a magnesium-based product combined with aloe, slippery elm, and marshmallow, herbs that support healthful bowel function. You can use a product like this a couple of times weekly, even if you only experience very mild constipation to help you to feel “cleaned out”. That wonderful feeling is one you’ll want to experience again and again! By the way, travel is often found to be constipating so be sure this supplement is a staple in your travel bag.
Many people may be bored with hearing about how fiber helps relieve constipation. Well, added to your diet, it does! Additionally, studies have shown that increased fiber intake can also decrease cancer risk.(7) Not so boring anymore.
You have to be careful in choosing a fiber supplement. Many fibers, like psyllium, can be even more constipating. Seek out a product that is made from organic pea, hemp, and flax fibers. These all speed up transit time, helping you to move your bowels with ease.
- A Good Probiotic
Probiotics taken daily help balance your gut microbes. These friendly bacteria play a major role in the quality of your bowel movements and the health of your colon.
Bottom line – healthy bowel movements minimize the toxins that associate constipation and cancer!
The ultimate takeaway here is (drumroll!) — make moving your bowels a priority in your life! Whether you need to change your eating habits, get outside and exercise, and/or make use of convenient supplements to get you going, do it! Literally, maintaining a healthy gut can save your life, and avoiding breast cancer is only one example!