Health and Well Being

Sitting Down; Doubles Your Risk

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A study has suggested that desk-bound office workers have double risk of bowel cancer than their non-sedentary counter-parts. Spending years hunched over a computer screen in a desk job may be more than soul destroying; it can be bad for your health.

Bowel Cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) is the most common cancer in NZ. But bowel cancer is one of the most treatable and beatable cancers if caught early. Although it is most prevalent in people age 50+, men and women of all ages should watch out for any signs of bowel cancer.  Symptoms can include blood in your bowel motion, recent and persistent changes in your bowel habits or abdominal pain.

The Australian study reported that workers in sedentary jobs for ten years or more are doubling the risk of bowel cancer. Perhaps more startling is that they also suggest that no amount of working out in the office gym can offset the harm done from long periods of sitting down.

Researchers compared the working patterns of 918 bowel cancer sufferers with healthy volunteers.

The results showed those who spent more than a decade in sedentary jobs were 94 per cent more likely to suffer a tumour in an area of the bowel known as the distal colon. These findings perhaps should make us think about our occupational choices. Given the advances in technology, we are spending much more time remaining seated at work, for some 40 plus hours per week, to then spend more time sitting at home watching the television or spending leisure time on the computer.

The study proposes that prolonged sitting could increase blood sugar levels and damage insulin production, which have both been linked to the development of bowel cancer. Another theory is that it causes an inflammation inside the body, a risk factor for tumours.

Additionally a lack of exercise and diets high in fat and red meat are thought to be among the main risk factors.

It should be noted that while this study was fairly small, and relied on asking people to recall their behaviour from years before, it does reflect the findings of other larger studies.

There is some research into how some natural supplements can reduce risk or aid in the treatment of bowel cancer. Studies in animals and some small trials in people suggest that fish oil supplementation can fight inflammation and may have cancer-fighting properties. One particular study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, reports subjects had a reduced risk of colon cancer with an increasing omega 3 intake, however further investigation is needed.

Researchers from U.K. have started working on the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, to find whether it can help in increasing the therapeutic ability of chemotherapeutic agents against bowel cancer.

Curcumin is found to have potent anti-inflammatory properties and can also work as an antioxidant. It has also been used as an alternative therapy for many of the problems such as allergies, liver and digestive disorders and acne.

Some of the studies have also showed that curcumin not only improves the working of chemotherapeutic agents but also protects the healthy cells from the harmful effects of radiotherapy. This could mean that patients who need chemotherapy could receive lower doses allowing for fewer side effects and longer treatment periods. However, the use of curcumin still needs a lot of research.

Bowel cancer is treatable in 75% of diagnoses if caught early. You should always see your doctor if you develop any symptoms related to bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer kills more New Zealanders than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. (2007 Ministry of Health Cancer Registry) for more information about bowel cancer visit the Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa website


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