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The Doctor Game: Can fibre decrease the risk of colon cancer?

Humans don’t learn from history. Dr.
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Gifford Jones

Humans don’t learn from history. Dr. Denis Burkitt, a British researcher, showed years ago that African natives, consuming large amounts of fiber, did not suffer from constipation, appendicitis or problems of the large bowel, such as diverticulitis (hernias of the colon). Now, a new British report states an increase in dietary fiber decreases the risk of large bowel malignancy.

Being of Scottish heritage, I always consider ways to save money for our health care system. Luckily, there’s no need for expensive MRI’s to determine whether the diet contains sufficient fiber. A rectal examination that finds rock-like stools quickly provides the answer. Stools that don’t float are also a good sign more fiber is needed.

Students of history may remember the World War 2 story of the battleship King George V chasing Germany’s battleship, the Bismark. But how many know that constipation was rampant among its sailors? The ship’s surgeon, T.L. Cleave, was also constipated and hated to take laxatives. Faced with this problem, Dr. Cleave decided to experiment on himself. For several days he consumed raw unprocessed bran. It cured his and his sailors’ constipation.

Studies show that North Americans consume only 15 grams of fiber daily. This is a failing grade as it’s less than half of what people should be eating.

So what’s so vital about fiber? Fiber holds onto water, thus creating large soft stools. This means fewer grunts with bowel movements, less risk of hemorrhoids, and pain due to the irritable bowel syndrome. It also seems logical that by fighting constipation, cancer causing substances would be removed quicker. The trouble is that most studies have failed to prove this is the case.  

Now Dr. Dafinn Anne, at the Imperial College of London, has reported what may be the largest study ever conducted of fiber. It involved two million participants who were followed up to 17 years. The study showed that those who consumed a high fiber diet had a 12 percent lower risk of developing colon cancer. It appeared that the benefit was greater with cereal fiber and whole grain intake than from fiber in fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Nicola McKeown, an epidemiologist at Tufts University, says,” Most people are consuming refined grains and missing out on the fiber and the nutrients concentrated in whole grain”.

Natural products are always superior to refined manufactured food.  Besides, there is no debate that fiber is one of the best ways to fight the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, now reaching epidemic proportions in North America. With the control of these two problems, the risk of developing other major killers such as heart attack, hypertension, stroke and the complications of surgery is decreased.

Fiber’s secret is its capacity to fill. For instance, no one with an ounce of sense would put eight teaspoons of sugar in a glass of water and drink it. Yet children and others are drinking cans of cola that contain this amount of sugar and no fiber. These drinks have little effect on the hunger reflex. On the other hand, an apple contains three grams of fiber. A second one is rarely needed as the stomach feels full and the hunger reflex diminishes.

The best time to start increasing fiber intake is at breakfast. Look for high fiber cereals that contain 15 grams of fiber per serving and the least amount of sugar. Be sure to buy brown rather than white rice, whole wheat pasta rather than regular pasta and whole wheat bread rather than white bread.  Also add lentils, black beans, green peas, tomatoes, celery, prunes, pears, broccoli, bananas and roasted almonds to your diet, all high in fiber content.

I admit I sometimes prefer bacon and eggs or French toast with maple syrup for breakfast. But as Sidney Howard, the playwright, remarked, “Knowing what you want is also knowing what you must give up before you get it’.  So a bowl of high fiber cereal seems like a small sacrifice if it will prevent a deadly colon malignancy. Besides, who enjoys being constipated?

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