Date: 22 Sep 2019
Author: The Vegan Society Aotearoa

New Zealand has the sad honour of having the highest rate of bowel (colorectal) cancer in the world. Thousands of people are affected annually and even more are affected indirectly – family members and loved ones dealing with the heartbreak and often loss of sufferers. The real travesty is that with the right diet, a high proportion of these can be prevented, maybe 50% or more.

Meat heavy diet to blame

The main culprit is a diet far too heavy on meats, particularly processed meat like bacon, sausages and cured meats, ultra processed foods and a lack of fibre from fruits and vegetables. The harmful compounds in these foods like nitrosamines, haem iron and animal protein itself are well described in the scientific literature.

The important thing is to tell people this, as most still don’t know.

Is cancer preventable?

Dr Mark Craig, Auckland GP says he sees cancer sufferers who ask “What did I do to get this awful disease?” When he tells them it is a largely predictable disease due to lifestyle, they get angry and wish they had known years back. However, even once a diagnosis has been made it’s not too late. Bowel cancer sufferers can greatly increase their survival chances by dropping the animal products and switching to a plant based diet, full of anti cancer phytonutrients such as sulforaphane in broccoli, and butyrate from fibre and which also creates a healthier gut biome of protective bacteria.

Dr Craig sees many patients with cancer and always mentions that they have some control over their disease, it’s not just down to their doctors. “It has been well described that diet quality affects survival outcome and patients love to hear this. If one reads Dr John Kelly’s great book ‘Stop Feeding Your Cancer’, he documents several real cases of remission of cancer on cutting out meat and dairy foods.”

Screening not good enough

The recent sad case of a young man in Southland being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer has brought a response from the government to increase funds for cancer detection, which is great, but given what we know from the science, surely far more should be emphasis should be put on educating people to prevent this disease. After all, prevention is way better and cheaper than trying to cure it, which is not always possible.

“No one is saying don’t take conventional treatment and just rely on food and healthy lifestyle once a diagnosis has been made, but, if you are going to accept major surgery and often gruelling treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy, then you have got to switch to the healthier diet and lifestyle, or else you’re not giving yourself the maximum chance of beating it.” Dr Craig advises. Whilst these treatments carry significant morbidity and side effects, the side effects of a plant based diet are only good- lower heart disease risk, lower chance of cancer recurrence, better weight, better digestive health and so on. Try it and see.

If you are considering changing your diet for your health, why not try the 21 day easy vegan challenge. You will be emailed tips, recipes, meal plans, all the information you need to eat a plant-based diet.

More about Dr Mark Craig
Dr Mark Craig
GP with Special Interest in Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine, Disease Prevention and Reversal Mark’s main passion in medicine is to help treat and lessen diseases caused by food and lifestyle issues. He is a General Practitioner Doctor and Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners of New Zealand, having trained in the UK in Surgery and then General Practice.
Mark was introduced to the startling evidence for a whole food plant based diet and benefits to health in 2012 and since then has promoted this as an essential way to address health issues. He utilises this in conjunction with standard pharmaceutical drugs and procedures where this is beneficial. He is open minded to alternative and novel therapies where there is good evidence to show benefit. He appreciates that most of the best treatments for our common medical conditions are not expensive, harmful, invasive or complicated.

References –
Cancer red meat – How not to die of cancer
Best diet for colon cancer prevention