Most people don’t like to talk about their colon and bowel, even to a trusted physician. Concerns like constipation, hemorrhoids and rectal bleeding aren’t on anyone’s list of conversation icebreakers. Yet as Chief of Colorectal Surgery James Yoo, MD explains: “These are really common issues for everyone from little kids to seniors. The worst thing you can do is ignore it until it becomes a bigger problem.” A healthy colon is key to a healthy body — and vice versa. Dr. Yoo outlines three simple ways to keep your colon healthy and happy.
1. EAT HEALTHY
A well-balanced diet is the most important factor for maintaining a healthy colon. Dr. Yoo recommends avoiding processed foods and striving for a high-fiber (25–30 grams/day), low-fat diet. Sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, bran, beans and nuts. Taking a fiber supplement can also help.
2. EXERCISE REGULARLY
Regular physical activity has many health benefits, of course, and exercise can greatly improve the function of your gastrointestinal tract. In other words, staying on the go helps you, well, go.
3. GET SCREENED
Talk to your doctor about a colorectal cancer screening at age 50—or earlier if you have a family history of cancer or exhibit symptoms of poor colon health.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” says Dr. Yoo. “When I evaluate patients with a concern like hemorrhoids, we try to address the issue without intervention by modifying diet and lifestyle first.” However, a common symptom like rectal bleeding may be the sign of more serious concerns like colon or rectal cancer. With symptoms like this, Dr. Yoo strongly advises patients to see their physician for further evaluation.
AN INNOVATION IN CARE
A colonoscopy screening is used to identify precancerous polyps in your colon. Some polyps are easy to remove before they become a problem; others may require more advanced surgery.
Dr. Yoo, who joined Tufts Medical Center in January, uses an innovative approach called Combined Endoscopic Laparoscopic Surgery (CELS). Tufts MC is one of a handful of medical centers around the nation offering this minimally invasive surgery, which can be used to avoid bowel resection for polyps that cannot be removed by standard techniques. “The typical treatment in this situation is a bowel resection even though 80 to 85 percent of these polyps are benign,” says Dr. Yoo. “This new approach allows the polyp to be tested for cancer without having to remove part of the colon, sparing patients major abdominal surgery.”
If you have concerns about colon health, call Tufts MC’s Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery at 617-636-6190.