Gut inflammation is known to be a risk factor for the development of colon cancer. A recent study published in the journal Science has traced back the steps from colon cancer only to discover that gut inflammation triggers a decrease in gut microbial diversity that allows pathogens to flourish and damage intestinal cells, leading to the development of cancer.

The researchers were able to determine that inflammation in the gut comes first, and is followed by a simplification of the gut microbial communities. This simplification is essentially a reduction of bacterial diversity that then allows pathogens—E. coli and related bacteria—to gain the upper hand in the gut and promote the formation of tumors.

This study used an animal model to help us to understand how gut microbes might lead to cancer in humans. One of the researchers, Anthony Fodor, found higher levels of E. coli and related bacteria in a separate human study that looked at at biopsies from patients with colorectal cancer. “As is usual in human studies, we didn’t have cause and effect,” noted Fodor. “We don’t know if microbes are somehow causing conditions to shift in the gut that would cause cancer or if there are conditions that are associated with cancer that would increase the openness of the gut to particular microbes.”

That’s why they did the animal study. So they could more closely look at the relationship between inflammation, changes in the gut microbiota, and development of cancer. “These are exciting results because they suggest there may be a direct link between changes in the gut microbiota and the progression from inflammation to cancer.”

Gut inflammation is one main contributor to chronic disease, including cancer. This is the topic of my last book and PBS show, The Road to Perfect Health, as well as my new book and PBS show, Heart of Perfect Health (airing nationwide beginning November/December). Truly, optimal digestive function is the foundation upon which total-body health is built.