Most colorectal cancers begin with polyps—small clumps of cells that attach to the intestine walls. While polyps usually start out benign, they can turn into cancer over time.
While still very common, colorectal cancer has become increasingly less deadly over the past few decades. One of the main reasons for this is widespread use of colonoscopies. During these screenings, doctors examine the lining of the entire large intestine using a thin flexible tube called a colonoscope. When they come across polyps or other areas of concern, they can remove them before they have a chance to become malignant.
In addition, treatment regimens have vastly improved over the last several years, thanks in part to exciting research into potentially powerful natural compounds.
One such study, published in September 2015, examined the effects of oregano and thyme essential oils on two human colon cancer cell lines (HCT116 and LoVo). These oils contain carvacrol, a compound that displays antitumor properties.1
The researchers found that carvacrol inhibited proliferation (rapid reproduction) and migration in both cell lines. Specifically, carvacrol decreased the expression of MMP-2 and MMP-9—proteins involved in the breakdown of the cellular matrix and in the spread of cancer cells. It also stopped the cycle of cancer cell replication and induced apoptosis (cell death).
According to the researchers, “Results suggest that carvacrol may have therapeutic potential for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer.”
This isn’t the first study to sing the praises of carvacrol. Another research paper claimed that carvacrol has many diverse properties, including “antimicrobial, antitumor, antimutagenic, antigenotoxic, analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, angiogenic, antiparasitic, antiplatelet”…and much more!2
Research published last year even indicated it may help control the dreaded norovirus, which results in vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and other miserable symptoms that come along with “stomach flu.”3
While very promising, research into carvacrol is still preliminary. However, it appears to be generally regarded as safe, and it’s commercially available at some health food stores and online supplement retailers. Look for oregano oil, which should list its carvacrol content, ranging anywhere from 70 to 90 percent. Follow dosage instructions listed on the product.
Preventing Colorectal Cancer
Fortunately, colorectal cancer is a highly preventable disease. Along with taking carvacrol (if you’re so inclined), here are a few other steps you can take to reduce your risk:
- Eat a diet rich in fiber and other nutrients—primarily found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid cigarettes and other forms of tobacco.
- Drink in moderation or avoid alcohol entirely.
- Take vitamin D. Early research suggests a link between low D levels and increased colorectal cancer risk.4
- Supplement with curcumin (the medicinal compound found in the Indian spice turmeric), as several studies suggest that this anti-inflammatory agent also protects against several types of cancer, including colorectal.5
Finally, be sure to get a colonoscopy starting at age 50 or earlier if you have a strong family or personal history of the disease. If, after your first colonoscopy, your doctor gives you the all-clear, you likely won’t need another one for 10 years.
If your doctor finds polyps, he/she may recommend another screening in five years. (Keep in mind, these are general recommendations; your doctor should provide you with a suitable screening timeline based on your health history, screening results and several other factors.)
No, colonoscopies are not fun. Nobody enjoys getting them. But we can probably all agree that a day or two of discomfort in exchange for years of peace of mind is a pretty fair deal. So don’t put it off.
- Fan K, et al. Anticancer Drugs. 2015 Sep;26(8):813-23.
- Baser KH. Curr Pharm Des. 2008;14(29):3106-19.
- Gilling DH, et al. J Appl Microbiol. 2014 May;116(5):1149-63.
- Tagliabue E, et al. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2015;75:1-52.
- Shakibaei M, et al. BMC Cancer. 2015 Apr 10;15:250.