How dental plaque bacteria fuels aggressive colorectal cancer

Cancer is unpredictable…

Some people get it. Others don’t.

Some people get slow growing cancer. Others get cancer that develops at a rapid pace.

Some people survive cancer. Others don’t.

There are so many variables that factor into the cancer equation that it’s hard to pin down why cancer affects people so differently. But we have figured some things out…

Like how cancer type, genetics, diet, exercise habits, mental attitude, environmental exposures, health conditions and more, meld together to create your unique cancer risk and shape your chance of survival.

But there’s one factor that we’re still working to understand — bacteria.

We now know, for example, that certain bacteria put us at risk for certain cancers. And that certain bacterial strains may affect how aggressive cancer becomes.

Unfortunately, there’s a common (but preventable) oral bacteria that has this exact effect on colorectal cancer…

People with this bacterium in their body are not only more likely to get colorectal cancer, but they’re also more likely to get aggressive colorectal cancer that leads to death.

Dental plaque and aggressive cancer

A new study from researchers at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine revealed why Fusobacterium nucleatum, a common oral bacterium found in dental plaque, makes colorectal cancer more aggressive.

Previous research shows that as many as a third of colorectal cancer cases are tied to Fusobacterium nucleatum. And these cases are usually more aggressive.

Columbia researchers wanted to see why Fusobacterium nucleatum fueled colorectal cancer so aggressively, and here’s what they found…

Colon cancer cells contain a protein called Annexin A1 that healthy colon cells don’t have. Annexin A1 is like a magnet for that colorectal cancer-fueling bacteria Fusobacterium nucleatum. Even worse, Fusobacterium nucleatum reacts with colon cancer cells in a way that makes them create more Annexin A1, creating a dangerous feedback loop.

So, Annexin A1 attracts Fusobacterium nucleatum bacteria. Fusobacterium nucleatum creates more Annexin A1. And together they create more cancer.

Fighting dental plaque to protect your colon

Fusobacterium nucleatum is found in dental plaque and tied to tooth decay. So, if you keep your dental plaque down, you’re not only protecting your teeth from decay, you’re probably keeping your colorectal cancer risk down.

There are plenty of ways to prevent plaque from taking over your mouth. Obviously, brushing your teeth, flossing and visiting the dentist twice per year can keep your plaque levels low.

Related: Ditch the floss and swish this instead

But what you eat and drink also determines how much plaque forms in your mouth. Certain foods and drinks promote plaque, while others prevent it. Foods and drinks that promote plaque include:

  • Sweets
  • Soft drinks
  • Starchy foods
  • Alcohol

Foods and drinks that prevent plaque include:

  • Green tea
  • Black tea
  • Cranberry juice (unsweetened)
  • Olive oil
  • Dairy products
  • Fiber-filled foods… especially fruits and veggies

So, keep eating the foods that prevent plaque and avoiding the foods that promote it. If you do, you’ll have healthier teeth and a healthier colon.

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Sources:

  1. How a common oral bacteria makes colon cancer more deadly — MedicalXpress
  2. Fusobacterium nucleatum promotes colorectal cancer by inducing Wnt/β‐catenin modulator Annexin A1EMBO Reports
  3. The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth — University of Rochester Medical Center
  4. How to reduce dental plaque — Humana
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.