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Understanding Heart Disease and Colon Cancer - What's the Connection?

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Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells and complex systems make up the beautiful masterpiece that we call health. But our understanding of it is constantly evolving to present new challenges. With time and insight, today's medical breakthroughs will shape an improved image of your health, tomorrow.

Uncovering the relationships between diseases inspires our hope to prevent them. Today, we're talking about an important one: the connection between heart disease and colon cancer risks.

Metabolic Syndrome - The Common Link Between Heart Disease and Colon Cancer Risk

Research finds that cardiovascular disease and colon cancer (among many other types of cancer and diseases) share similar yet prevalent risk factors that are linked to metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors/conditions that, together, significantly raise the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even colon and liver cancers.

According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome is generally distinguished by having three or more of these five metabolic conditions:

  • Central or abdominal obesity (measured by waist circumference):
    • Men - greater than 40 inches
    • Women - greater than 35 inches
  • High triglycerides – 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more, or you’re taking medicine for high triglycerides.
  • Low HDL cholesterol, or you're taking medicine for low HDL cholesterol:
    • Men - less than 40 mg/dL
    • Women - Less than 50 mg/dL
  • High blood pressure – 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or more, or you’re taking medicine for high blood pressure.
  • High fasting glucose (blood sugar) – 100 mg/dL or more, or you’re taking medicine for high blood glucose.

It is not surprising that the underlying causes of metabolic syndrome are also risk factors for both colon cancer and heart disease, such as overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, genetic factors and aging.

The Impact of Metabolic Syndrome

As reported in 2022 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), metabolic syndrome affects nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults. And as the number of people with metabolic syndrome increases, there is concern that the already high incidences of colon cancer and heart disease could climb even higher.

Metabolic syndrome is associated with both a higher rate of heart disease and colon cancer risk; however, with metabolic syndrome, the most critical risk associated with morbidity (death) is heart disease.

This is concerning because the American Heart Association reports that over 121.5 million American adults are already living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke, with heart disease accounting for one in every three U.S. deaths. Colon cancer makes up 10 percent of all cancer deaths and is expected to cause about 53,010 deaths in 2024 for Americans. This is according to the American Cancer Society.

Reducing Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors

One of the most important risk factors to address with metabolic syndrome is overweight and obesity. Many people experience various challenges to achieving a healthy weight, which can be medical, environmental, psychological and economical.

For this reason, many doctors recommend a medically supervised weight-loss program that develops a personalized nutrition and exercise plan for your individual needs.

At AdventHealth, we have medical, endoscopic and surgical weight loss treatment options to help all patients achieve a healthier BMI, in the way that best helps them feel whole.

Non-Surgical Weight-Loss Treatment with the Gastric Balloon

One of the non-surgical medically assisted weight-loss procedures is the gastric balloon. This procedure is for patients that do not qualify for more invasive surgical weight loss procedures. In fact, the gastric balloon is for patients that have a BMI (body mass index) between 30 and 40 with about 25 to 50 pounds to lose.

The gastric balloon procedure involves inserting a balloon into the stomach through endoscopy. Once inserted, the balloon helps patients feel full so they don't eat as much. After six months, the balloon is removed and most patients experience three times the amount of weight loss compared to diet and exercise alone. To be considered for the procedure, patients must also participate in a weight-loss program that provides a medically-directed nutrition and exercise plan.

It's important to provide patients with all of the tools and education to make them successful in their weight loss for improved health.

This education focuses largely on nutrition to reduce metabolic risk factors. Patients are recommended to increase their fiber intake, which has been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels and even colon cancer risk.

Limiting high-calorie meals also helps support healthy weight, which includes minimizing red meat intake. Some studies indicate that folate may reduce colon cancer risk as well.

Since the treatment of metabolic risk factors can involve several medical specialties, it's important to seek treatment from a connected system of physicians that will coordinate your complete medical care. Endocrinologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists and primary care physicians all play important roles in managing metabolic syndrome and your specific risks factors for colon cancer, diabetes and/or heart disease.

Medical specialists can also assess your additional risk factors like family history and recommend appropriate preventive screenings, such as colonoscopies to screen for colon cancer. Even though research tells us metabolic syndrome is associated with increased colon cancer risk, our recommended colon cancer screening guidelines are currently influenced by age and race.

Current colon cancer screening guidelines advise that both men and women have colon cancer screenings starting at age 50, with African Americans starting at age 45. Colon cancer and its mortality rates are significantly higher among African Americans compared to Caucasians.

The colonoscopy is still the gold standard and only cancer screening that is also preventive. With early detection, polyps can be removed right away and prevent cancer from developing further.

Protect Your Health, Today

Understanding the link between heart disease and colon cancer is important because it's yet another discovery that connects a few more pieces to the complete picture of your health. But there are more insights to glean.

Research tells us there is a strong association between metabolic syndrome and many diseases, but the exact mechanisms from having metabolic risk factors to developing heart disease or colon cancer (as just two examples) are still unknown.

And while we wait for these details surface, we can act by being aware of metabolic syndrome and taking steps to reduce its risk factors with the hope to also prevent colon cancer, heart disease and other related diseases in the future.

Be sure to visit HeartCareKC.com and CancerCareKC.com to learn more about the award-winning care our team of experts offer you and your loved ones.

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