Lifestyle tips for the prevention of bowel polyps

Bowel polyps, also known as colon polyps, are overgrown tissues on the wall of the colon. About one in four people that undergo screening tests will find polyps in one or more parts of the colon [1]. The size of polyps can range from diminutive (≤ 5mm) to small (< 5mm but < 1cm) to large (≥ 1cm). Although most polyps are benign, they may turn into cancerous if allowed to grow. It is estimated that only about 5% of non-cancerous polyps can turn into cancer if not removed [2].

Colon polyps are overgrown tissues on the wall of the colon. They can become cancerous if not removed.

Hence, doctors who perform the screening test will typically remove any polyps found during the screening, unless the polyps are considered too big to remove. The removed tissues will be sent for pathological analysis to determine whether they are cancerous [3]. With bowel cancer being the most common cancer that leads to fatality worldwide, early screening and removal of polyps have become an essential preventive measure [4]. However, how to prevent the formation of polyps in the first place? Here are some lifestyle tips.

Eat a high-fibre diet

Eat a lot of vegetables for the prevention of bowel polyps.

One way to beat the odds of growing bowel polyps is to eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Individuals who ate a diet with the highest level of dietary fibre had 24% less chance than those who ate the least amount of fibre in their food.  This is according to a study that followed 77,445 individuals for 5 years [5]. There is also a reduced risk of distal colon cancer was observed with increased total fibre intake from vegetables and cereals in this study [5]. Another study compared the dietary habits of 265 patients of bowel cancers to 252 healthy controls. It found that the control group consumed more vegetables, soy food and total fibre than did colorectal cancer patients. Similarly, the study found those who consumed the highest level of dietary fibres have 50% to 60% lower risk of getting bowel cancer compared to those who ate the least dietary fibres [6]. Admittedly, eating high-fibre foods can help the bowel to stay away from polyps and its nasty outgrowth.

Reduce intake of red and processed meat

No red meat – a sure way to keep away from bowel polyps.

Analysis of data from 60 studies from all over the world found robust evidence that consumption of red meat and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer [7]. Red meat is high in fat and iron but low in calcium, a combination that promotes polyp growth in the bowel. Meat processing further releases certain chemicals that accelerate polyp growth and its development into cancer [8]. So, if you want to prevent bowel polyps, keep your meat consumption to a minimal.

Stop smoking

Want to key bowel polyps at bay? Say ‘NO’ to smoking.

If you are a current cigarette smoker, you are about 4 to 6 times more likely to develop at least one form of bowel polyps. This is according to a study that analysed the data of 33,667 patients who underwent sigmoidoscopy [9]. A total of 4,383 of them had bowel polyps. The study found a strong link between current smoker and bowel polyps. However, the study also a much weaker association between ex-smoker and bowel polyps [9]. As such, quitting smoking is one right way to reduce the risk of getting bowel polyps.

Start exercising

The younger you start exercising, the higher the chance for you to be free from bowel polyps.

A study evaluated the relationship of exercise on the prevalence of polyps in the United States. The researchers found a lower prevalence of polyps among those were exercising one hour per week compared to those who exercised less or not at all [10]. Furthermore, the earlier in life you start exercising, the lower your risk of getting bowel polyps and cancer. This is the findings from a study that analysed data from 28,250 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II [11]. The participants provided data on physical activity during adolescence (ages 12–22 years) in 1997 and then subsequently underwent lower bowel endoscopy (1998–2011). The study found physical activity during adolescence may lower the risk of colorectal adenoma later in life [11]. Therefore, it is good to start exercising early to prevent the development of polyps. 

Watch your weight

Watch your weight! Weight gain is associated with a higher risk of bowel polyps.

Being overweight is a risk factor for developing bowel polyps. One study found a strong association between weight gain and bowel polyps. Specifically, for every 5 kg weight gain, your odds of getting bowel polyps will increase by 7% [12]. Hence, it is essential to keep a stable, healthy weight.   

Moderate alcohol intake

Do not consume alcohol excessively. A study found that heavy drinkers are 1.7 times more likely to have the occurrence of high-risk polyps than those who are not [13]. Hence, moderate your drinking of alcohol is vital to prevent bowel polyps.


In conclusion, lifestyle habits are linked to bowel polyps. Unhealthy diet, weight gain, cigarette smoking, and heavy alcohol drinking are all modifiable risk factor for bowel polyps. To prevent bowel polyps and its potentially dreadful consequence, one should eat a high-fibre diet consists of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Other positive changes include reducing the intake of red and processed meat, maintaining a healthy weight, and increasing physical activity. Stop smoking and only drink alcohol moderately. These lifestyle changes can help to lower the risk of developing bowel polyps.    


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