Know it, to control it

Oxygen levels in colon and green vegetable diet – a correlation to prevent colon cancers

For normal tissue function, oxygen level availability is of paramount importance. The oxygen profile of the gut or the gastrointestinal tract is unique. There are fluctuations in the blood perfusions at regular intervals throughout the day. Usually, the lining of the intestine or the epithelial lining has low oxygen levels at baseline and is therefore in a state of physiological hypoxia.

However, the gut requires high energy to maintain its metabolic functions including secretion, digestion, absorption and transport of digested food to enhance the basic immunity. To support these activities, gastrointestinal oxygen consumption increases disproportionally to gastrointestinal blood flow.

Oxygenation of the intestinal epithelium depends on the balance of oxygen delivery, consumption, and the amount that is diffused into the lumen via the local blood supply.

In the colon, millions of anaerobic bacteria exist and oxygen levels can get further depleted by these organisms. Research has indicated that butyrate, an end product of anaerobic bacterial metabolism, has a direct effect on epithelial oxygen consumption by being the energy source of the colonic epithelium.

The current understanding is that low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in cells may be a primary cause of cancer formation as well as uncontrollable tumor growth. This is a hypothesis for the development of colon cancers.
Diet is an important risk factor for developing colorectal cancer. Many studies endorse dietary choices in the prevention of colon cancer. These changes are deemed necessary even during and after treatment for colon cancer.

The American cancer society recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fibers could help to minimize the risk for colon cancers. Additionally, there is a link between red meat consumption and the high risk in developing colon cancer. Meat takes longer to get digested as compared to vegetables and fruits as well as lack of fiber in non-vegetarian diet reduces the gut movement. This leads to a longer time of contact of the food residue with the surface of gut with resultant constipation.

Among vegetables, it is recommended that green vegetables including the commonly available spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, spirulina, alfalfa, parsley, broccoli, green cabbage, asparagus, green beans and peas should be consumed in adequate portions on a daily basis.

Most nutritionists also suggest including green tea as a preferred beverage for its antioxidant properties. Green vegetables contain chlorophyll and are high in antioxidants raising oxygen levels dramatically. Chlorophyll containing plants have the capacity to release oxygen, and when added to one’s daily diet have the capacity to increase oxygen carrying capacity of the blood thereby increasing circulating oxygen levels.

In the colonic hypoxic environment, where there is oxidative stress because of oxygen shortage, this characteristic reaches great significance.

Antioxidants provide a protective environment to oxygen starved colonic epithelial lining nourishing cells against cellular damage and transformation. This, therefore, supports the notion that a beneficial relationship exists between consuming green vegetables and their significant role in reducing the risk for colon cancer.

Indian diet has a significant portion of diet formed by vegetables, spices and fruits that are indigenous to the tropical habitat of our land. Recent migration of food habits towards meat based diet may spell an untoward movement towards inviting higher incidence of colon cancer in future!