By Ross Walker

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in men and women in Australia. The risk of diagnosis by age 85 is one in 11 for men and one in 15 for women. There are many factors that contribute to colorectal cancer including genetics, diet, inflammatory bowel disease, inactivity and to a lesser extent, alcohol and cigarette smoking. 

There is increasing evidence that the modern diet commonly consisting of processed, packaged muck masquerading as food may strongly be contributing to this cancer risk. Over the past decade there has been increasing emphasis placed on the importance of the gut microbiome. The mix and diversity of gut microbes are now being strongly linked to a variety of diseases. These diseases not only involve the bowel itself, but disorders of gut microbes are also increasingly being linked to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a number of common cancers including colon cancer. 

Research in mice, from the US, has demonstrated that even in low concentrations of the commonly used emulsifiers in food there is low grade inflammation in the body, with subsequent, obesity and metabolic syndrome. This has occurred at even a 10th of the dose commonly used in foods. 

When they studied mice and administered emulsifiers at the same concentration given to humans in food, there was a marked increase in pro-inflammatory gene expression and a change in the balance between cell proliferation and cell death, which tips the balance towards tumour development. 

These emulsifiers - carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 - are commonly used in many processed foods throughout the western world. 

Energy drinks

Equally disturbing is a recent report discussing the potential problems of energy drinks which I have mentioned and wrote about repeatedly. This report from the US suggested that the majority of energy drinks are consumed by young males in the 18 to 34-year-old age group, and also disturbingly, a third of teenagers consume energy drinks regularly between the ages of 12 to 17. Between 2007 to 2011, the number of energy drink related emergency visits doubled. This is especially so when combined with alcohol, which leads to a marked increase in binge drinking. It is felt that the combination of caffeine and sugar imparts the biggest risk and there is no doubt that these are major culprits. 

But, just in the same way as we don't really consider the significant potential health risks of all the additives in processed, package foods that may be contributing to poor health, rather we focus on the fat, sugar or protein content of the food.

It appears the combination of caffeine and sugar imposes the biggest risks here. 

But, an interesting case report has highlighted the potential for more hidden components of energy drinks to cause harm. This report detailed a 50-year-old man who was consuming four to five energy drinks on a daily basis and had done so for three weeks. He had no change in his diet, alcohol consumption, prescription or over-the-counter medications, did not use illegal drugs and he did not have a family history of liver disease. He was admitted with an acute severe hepatitis and what surprised me is the research has suggested it was the excess dose of vitamin B3 in the form of Niacin in the energy drinks that led to the liver damage. When his liver was biopsied there was acute fatty liver and inflammation in the liver. He was also found to have hepatitis C which may have contributed as well. 

Regardless of the nuances of either of these examples, it certainly highlights the facts that there are downsides to our modern “Quick fix” approach. It’s clear to me that if it is in a box or a container it is probably not particularly good for your health, and the information I have included above certainly supports this argument.