January 23, 2017

Taking Care of Colon Problems

Strategies to Keep Your Colon Healthy

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

The colon is the least appreciated organ of the body – until it doesn’t work!  People with colon problems can be miserable.  The symptoms of colon trouble can include a wide variety of issues:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • And even cancer

the wrong bacteria in your colon can make you fatIf you’ve been wondering how to care for your colon, this is the article for you!

The colon is the large intestine.  It is the waste dump for everything we eat.  The small bowel absorbs all the nutrients from our food. Whatever is left over goes to the colon where the waste ferments through multiple types of bacteria. 

In the colon we have our main store of bacteria – trillions of them!

The types and amounts of bacteria we possess in our colon are essential to life. Even though they are residents of the colon, bacteria are very much a part of us, and in some ways make us what we are. They may determine our:

When we were babies in the womb we were sterile. Our first exposure to bacteria came from the birth canal, which supplied our intestines with bacteria needed to digest milk. People who are born by caesarian section don’t pick up the bacteria from their mother’s colon. Instead, their intestines start growing bacteria obtained from the skin. These bacteria don’t help digest food and can even cause inflammation over one’s entire lifetime!

One researcher concluded:

“Concurrent with the trend of increasing [Caesarean Delivery], there has been an epidemic of both autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis and allergic diseases, such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis.[5]

The Wrong Bacteria in Your Colon Can Make You Fat!

Additionally, those who are born by C-section are more susceptible to metabolic diseases and obesity.[6] Multiple studies in rats and humans have shown that bacteria in the colon have a large effect on obesity. One study used mice that had intestinal bypass surgery. Those mice that had the surgery now developed different bacteria. When that bacteria was given to obese mice, they lost weight without the bypass surgery. Essentially, bacteria from a thin mouse caused an obese mouse to lose weight.[7]

Humans also experience weight gain or loss associated with their gut flora.  In one study, humans with higher levels of a certain bacteria, M. smithii, were much more likely to be overweight than those with low levels.[8]

Wrong Colon Bacteria Can Cause Arthritis

Studies on the types of bacteria in the colon suggest that arthritis can be caused or worsened by our bacteria.  One study suggested that a single organism can make the difference between having arthritis – or not.[9] The organisms that cause inflammation grow on simple sugars and starches.  On the other hand, those bacteria that grow on prebiotics create butyrate. Butyrate acts as an energy source for cells lining the colon and reduce an inflammatory response.

Prebiotics are the fiber found in fruit and vegetables. They have certain fibrous carbohydrates that nourish the good bacteria to help them to grow.

Best Prebiotic FoodsGod gave us quite the gift when it comes to prebiotic foods because there are many that have just the right “ingredients” to improve gut function without us having to do anything else but eat them! The top most nutrient-dense prebiotic foods are:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Artichokes
  • Root vegetables
  • Apples

Prebiotic foods are like fuel for good bacteria. They escape digestion in our small intestine but continue to the colon where the “good” bacteria digest them.  These bacteria make butyrate, which prevents inflammation, such as arthritis.

Because of these bacterial studies, many have proposed fecal transplants to treat arthritis and obesity, instead of surgery and drugs.

What is a Fecal Transplant?

It is just as it sounds. Stool from one person is given to another person to change the bacteria in their colon.  When this procedure first started, the diluted donor stool was put through a tube that went from the nose into the small intestine. However, standard procedure today is done by way of an enema.  Doctors who do this procedure will use a colonoscope to get the bacteria all the way through the colon.

The purpose of a fecal transplant is to populate the colon with good bacteria and give it more biodiversity.

We not only need lots of bacteria, but a diverse population of bacteria growing together in harmony.  Research shows that this procedure can remedy many different problems such as drug resistance, chronic diarrhea, arthritis, obesity, and diabetes.

Probiotic Supplements

Because of this research, many advocate that we take probiotic pills that contain certain amounts of good bacteria.

Until the modern era, humans (and all animals for that matter) ate food laced with bacteria.  Dung fertilized the soil, allowing colon bacteria on the growing food.  People ate food that easily fermented and contained live bacteria. These are foods such as sauerkraut, natto (fermented soybeans), miso (another type of fermented soybeans), yogurt, kefir, and cheeses of all kinds.  Also, without refrigeration, food grew bacteria quickly.

Traditional cultures did not know all these important reasons to eat cultured foods.  However, they definitely knew that fermented food lasted longer, tasted better and made them feel better.  We would be wise to remember techniques our ancestors have left us about probiotics to help the colon!

By contrast, today, we take great measures to prevent bacteria from getting into our food.  For a longer shelf-life, food is:

  • Pasteurized
  • Radiated
  • Gassed
  • Sprayed with chemicals
  • Refrigerated
  • Frozen

Milk that has not been pasteurized lasts only a few days, even refrigerated. Whereas, pasteurized milk lasts for weeks. And ultra-pasteurized milk lasts for months without even being refrigerated!  Many think they may be getting some bacteria in yogurt or cheese. But most dairy products are also heated to prolong their shelf-life.  Canned kimchi and sauerkraut are heated so they contain little or no bacteria.  While there are benefits to decreasing bacteria in food, such as less food poisoning, there is a downside, as well. We don’t get many probiotics anymore.

The bacteria in your colon are like a fingerprint. Your native gut flora have been present since birth. They are uniquely you. They don’t like other bacteria coming in and growing so they usually kick them out.  If you thought you could take a probiotic for a short time to get it to grow inside the colon, guess again!  Probiotics do not become established members of your gut ecosystem. When you stop taking them, their numbers dwindle quickly. That specific probiotic strain level declines and eventually disappears. Within a couple of days to weeks, you’re back to your old self again.

This is why we need a constant supply of good bacteria, or probiotics, from our food.  However, since we don’t get much from food, we often supplement with probiotic pills.  For some people, taking probiotics can make a huge difference in:

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The Problem with Cancer Screening

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

Cancer testing is a large part of a doctor’s business.  We have been told that if we find cancer early, and cut it out, burn it with radiation, or poison it with chemotherapy, we can make a bigger difference.

While there is a lot of debate over this issue, we still continue to try to detect cancer early – or before it even starts.  I’m going to focus on the most common cancer screening tools, the ones you’ve all heard about, and that you were told you should do – or else!  These include:

  1. Mammograms
  2. Colonoscopy
  3. PSA testing
  4. PAP smears

I started studying cancer screening over ten years ago when I had a patient with an inexplicable case of cancer.  Because there were many cases in her family, Cecilia was always afraid of getting cancer and did all she could to prevent it by eating all organic and exercising regularly.  She even got all her cancer screening tests, PAP smears, annual mammograms and a colonoscopy at age 50.

One day, she came in to see me with a lump in her left breast.  It was large, a couple of centimeters, and not tender.  I looked at the mammogram report done only a few months before and it was negative for any signs of malignancy.  I reassured her that it was probably a cyst, but we would send her for an ultrasound to be sure.  A biopsy was done, it was cancer and, in spite of all the treatments, she died just over a year later.

Since I had known Cecilia for years and knew she was diligent in her health care, I was shaken by her death.  I wondered how we could have missed such a large tumor.  How could the mammogram have missed it only months before?  I asked the radiologist to review it, and he found no evidence of any mass in that exact location at that time.  So, I started doing some real research on the test itself, and was shocked by what I found!  Not only were mammograms questionable, but most of the cancer screening tests did more harm than good!


A mammogram is an x-ray, and x-rays don’t distinguish the difference between normal tissue and cancer.  Instead, the radiologist looks for tiny calcium deposits that indicate there is some inflammation in the tissue.  The problem is that calcium deposits happen with any kind of inflammation, and are not specific to cancer.  Thus, many women who don’t have cancer are told they do, and the aggressive real cancers are missed; like in Cecilia, because they don’t form calcium deposits.[i]  The newer mammograms are better able to distinguish tissues with less radiation, however the problems with screening persist.

The primary problem with mammograms is that they don’t decrease mortality, at all.  In the long-term studies, including the Canadian study[ii] and the Oslo study (noted above) after 25 years and 14 years, respectively, the incidence of mortality from breast cancer remained the same – in spite of finding more cancer.

The Canadian Study showed that 22% of the women who were treated for cancer didn’t even have cancer! Or, they would not have died from it if they did.

Thus, the statistics of women having a mammogram and getting “cured” of cancer with chemotherapy and radiation may only represent those women who never had it in the first place! Click to Tweet.

The eight major long-term studies have been reviewed extensively.  The most detailed study of all of them, the 2011 Cochrane Review[iii], said:

“Screening is likely to reduce breast cancer mortality. As the effect was lowest in the adequately randomized trials, a reasonable estimate is a 15% reduction corresponding to an absolute risk reduction of 0.05%. Screening led to 30% over-diagnosis and overtreatment, or an absolute risk increase of 0.5%. It is thus not clear whether screening [mammography] does more good than harm.”

In short: The risk (0.5%) is greater than the benefit (0.05%) by TEN TIMES!  In other words, you are ten times more likely to end up with treatment for a cancer you didn’t have, than to prolong your life span by finding and treating a tumor earlier.

What do I do to screen for breast cancer?

Other screening tests for breast cancer have similar problems… and that is finding something that gets treatment, but would not have become life-threatening if left alone.  One of my patients wanted MRI screening tests because she was afraid of the radiation (there is about a 1/5000 risk) from a mammogram, and didn’t want her breasts pinched in the machine.  A mass was found, and biopsy showed it was an Interductal Carcinoma In-Situ, and she was told she needed surgical removal, radiation, and chemotherapy.  She opted-out of treatment, and she is still fine – with her mass that continues to grow – twelve years later.  She would have been considered a “cure” if she had been treated.

5 ways to prevent breast cancerWhether you use MRI, ultrasound, mammogram, or thermogram, you must consider what you will do once you find a bump!  Do you wait?  Do you treat aggressively?  Unfortunately, we have more questions than answers.  Judging by the numbers in the Cochrane study above, I might opt out of screening for this one.  Instead, I would do my best to prevent breast cancer from forming in the first place: [am4show guest_error=’noaccess’]

  1. Breast feed the baby
  2. Vitamin D3 – 50,000 IU per week
  3. Iodine – 6.25mg per week
  4. Selenium – 200mcg per week
  5. Low-inflammation diet (no sugar) high in nutrients


You enter the GI doctors’ office, having been up all night with diarrhea to clean out your bowels.  They give you sedation to ease the pain.  You climb into the upside-down chair and hear gloves snap as the doctor inserts a long scope into…

OK.  Is this good?  It’s not comfortable, but is it worth the pain?  Let’s look at the risks and benefits.

The biggest risk of colonoscopy are related to perforation – or puncturing a hole – in the colon.  Other risks are bleeding, Dysbiosis (bad bacteria growing back), and inflammation.  A hole in the wall of the colon allows stool to get into the abdomen, causing infection, and sometimes death.  These happen most often in the elderly, and those who are disabled.  It happens between 2 in a thousand and 5 in a hundred, depending on the study and the one who performs the procedure.[iv]

The risk of death from colonoscopy is not small: 1/3,000 to 1/30,000 depending on the study and circumstances.[v] risk of death from colon cancer in the United States is around 1/10,000.[vi]  Thus, the risk of complications from colonoscopy is on the same level as the risk of death from the cancer.

It’s very hard to interpret the studies on colonoscopy because they are done for so many different reasons.  The statistics seem to indicate that there are as many as 50% fewer advanced cancers diagnosed if you get a screening test; however, the death rate doesn’t change very much.[vii]

5 ways to prevent colon cancerSo, this test has a different problem than the mammogram, it is risky; you can have significant harm or death – this risk must be weighed against the benefits.  The benefits of finding cancers is useful if they can be removed and by so doing prevent problems.  But, don’t think it will prevent you from dying of this dreaded disease.

I would weigh the risks and benefits.  I would not personally do a screening test unless there was some reason to do so, such as blood in the stool, or a family history, or inflammatory bowel disease.  I would work on colon cancer prevention instead:

  1. Eat vegetables every day
  2. Avoid corn, soy, and canola oil
  3. Avoid sugar
  4. Vitamin D3 – 50,000 IU per week
  5. Selenium – eat a few brazil nuts every week

PSA testing

Last week, my brother went through his second biopsy of the prostate gland.  He didn’t want to do it, but the doctor said he must to determine if there is any cancer in there.  You see, he had a PSA test, which was elevated, so he was sent to a urologist for further evaluation.  The urologist had nothing else to do, so he did a biopsy, which was negative.  Now, this requires follow-up, just because someone thought of it.  So, my brother repeats the PSA, and it’s still high so he suffers 12 more needles in his prostate (the Spanish Inquisition should have thought of this!).

Medicare quit paying for the PSA screening test because it causes a lot of procedures for no benefit.  What was found in multiple studies was essentially the same problem as the mammogram, but on STEROIDS!

PSA screening helps to find TEN TIMES more prostate cancer, but death from prostate cancer doesn’t change.  Click to Tweet.

So, we’re finding it, radiating it, surgically removing prostates and giving all sorts of poisons, but the overall rate of death remains the same.[viii]

In this case, we even have several studies to indicate that treatment may do more harm than good, as noted in the NIH Consensus Paper on the subject:

“More than half of cancers detected with PSA screening are localized (confined to the prostate), not aggressive at diagnosis, and unlikely to become life-threatening. However, 90 percent of patients receive immediate treatment for prostate cancer, such as surgery or radiation therapy. In many patients, these treatments have substantial short- and long-term side effects without any clinical benefit. Appropriate management of screen-detected, early-stage, low-risk prostate cancer is an important public health issue given the number of men affected and the risk for adverse outcomes, such as diminished sexual function and loss of urinary control.”[ix]

5 ways to prevent prostate cancerThough the doctors recommend expensive and painful tests and treatments, they offer no benefit to the patients. In fact, they often do more harm than good.[x]

The PSA test is not a bad test as an indicator of prostate inflammation, generally.  The problem is that it has become associated with cancer, so if it is high everyone gets overly concerned about that and miss the real problem.  If we could instead look at the PSA as an indicator of prostate inflammation only, it might become a useful test.

Primary prevention of prostate cancer includes:

  1. Low-inflammation diet
  2. Zinc supplementation
  3. Lycopene (the red in tomatoes)
  4. Avoid corn and soy oils
  5. Eat fish, or fish oil weekly

PAP smears

The Papanicolau (PAP) Smear has much less controversy than the other screening tests.  All of the problems surrounding this test revolve around fine-tuning who should have it, when, and how often.  There is also an issue of adding on the HPV test for the virus that causes cervical cancer.

Though there has never been a randomized trial to evaluate this test, it has been shown in multiple populations to decrease the incidence of cervical cancer, as well as lowering the death rate.[xi]

Moreover, there is no risk to doing this test, besides the possibility of having an unnecessary procedure if it is wrong.  However, unlike the potentially deadly results of the other tests, colposcopy, biopsy, or even a surgical procedure carries little risk to the patient.

The only group that has greater risk from screening is those women under 24 years of age.  This is because the incidence of cervical cancer is so low, and because most who get HPV infection will clear it without developing cancer.  Thus, PAP smears are not recommended for women under 24.

The interval of screening could be anywhere from annually, for those who have high risk, to every 5 years for those who are at low risk.  Generally, women who have had three normal PAP tests and have a monogamous, or no, relationship I recommend every 5 year screening.  Those who have had a previous abnormal test and have a high-risk HPV test should be screened every year or two.  If there is a question, I recommend getting the HPV test along with it.  This virus is necessary, though not sufficient, to cause cervical cancer. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to have a monogamous relationship with a single individual for life. Click to Tweet.


In short, I don’t recommend cancer screening tests, except the PAP smear.  I think primary prevention is the ideal, meaning preventing the cancer before it starts, and secondary prevention, meaning finding a cancer in an early stage to facilitate treatment, is not beneficial in the large majority of cases.


Dr. Scott SaundersDr. Scott D. Saunders, M.D. (Ask-an-MD) is a practicing physician, specializing in preventative health care, who utilizes eclectic health care for the whole family, including conventional, orthomolecular and natural medicine. He is also the medical director of The Integrative Medical Center of Santa Barbara in Lompoc, CA. He went to UCLA medical school and is board certified in family medicine. View natural remedies with Dr. Saunders at: http://drsaundersmd.com



[i] http://tidsskriftet.no/article/2220635/en_GB
[ii] http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g366
[iii] Gotzsche PC, Nielsen M. Screening for breast cancer with mammography. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;1:CD001877
[iv] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2811793/
[v] Common Questions about Colonoscopy. American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. Nov. 2005. 13 Oct. 2006 [http://www.askasge.org/pages/procedures/colonoscopy/questions.cfm].
[vi] http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2009_pops09/
[vii] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1301969
[viii] http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/statistics/index.htm
[ix] http://consensus.nih.gov/2011/prostate.htm
[x] http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1700496
[xi] http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/cervical/HealthProfessional/page2



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