Gutbliss - Dr. Robynne Chutkan


Colon Cancer on the Rise in Young People – Why?

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly double the amount of young people under the age of 55 are diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) today when compared to a decade ago. Undoubtedly, CRC rates are climbing at an alarming rate in young people, but why?

When posed this question, many of us immediately jump to the “big player” lifestyle factors as the explanation, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, and drinking. There is no doubt that more recent generations consume diets high in red and processed meats, ultra-processed foods, and alcohol. These generations also have higher obesity rates, lower rates of physical activity, and increased rates of binge drinking and smoking (although smoking rates have declined in the last two decades). Yet none of these lifestyle factors fully account for the exponential increase in CRC in young people (also referred to as early-onset CRC).

Experts are looking at other environmental factors that may explain this steep climb in early-onset cancer. And what they’re finding is not all that surprising to us here at Gutbliss. Small-scale studies have uncovered a microbial footprint in young people diagnosed with CRC – one that shows an imbalance in the ratio of beneficial (or “good”) and pathogenic (or “bad”) gut bacteria – strongly associated with medication use. Medications that show the most detriment to the gut microbiome in this early round of scientific literature include:

  • antibiotics (antibiotic use has increased by 46% worldwide since 2000),
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (more than 30 million people in the U.S. use them daily),
  • proton pump inhibitors (one-quarter of U.S. adults use PPIs and 63% of these users are under the age of 65),
  • and psychiatric medications (between 2000 and 2011 alone, psychiatric medications in all populations doubled and even tripled over the 11 years).

These medications are absorbed in the body through the intestinal lining and directly affect microbial balance. Other medications that show scientific evidence of disrupting the gut microbiome include the birth control pill, hormone replacement therapy, corticosteroids, and biologics.

As researchers continue to investigate gut bacteria and its role in early-onset CRC, you can be your own health advocate in cancer management and prevention, seeking daily microbial solutions for a flourishing gut garden, including dietary, lifestyle, and medicine cabinet approaches.

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Dr Robynne Chutkan
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