Eat Right to Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risk
June 28, 2007—When it comes to colon cancer risk, the type of fat that you eat might be more important than the amount. A new study shows that people who consume more omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in oily fish, are less likely to develop colon cancer.
“Eat more vegetables,” “don’t overcook meats,” “eat less fat,” “eat more olive oil.” With so much information out there about diet and disease prevention, choosing “healthy” foods can become a daunting process. Researchers from the UK tried to take some of the mystery out of eating right to help prevent colon cancer.
Most colon cancer begins as small benign growths, or polyps, that become cancerous over time. Regular screening tests can help detect the presence of polyps, and removing them can prevent colon cancer from forming. People with certain hereditary or medical conditions like familial polyposis (a condition in which multiple polyps develop) or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) are at increased risk for developing the disease.
While certain healthy eating habits are already known to influence colon health, the relationship between fat in the diet and colon cancer risk is controversial. To investigate this association, the Study of Colorectal Cancer in Scotland compared fat intake of 1,455 people with colon cancer with that of the same number of people without the disease. Participants gave information about the type, amount, and frequency of all the foods that they ate, including all oils used in cooking and types of spreads used on breads. They also reported use of dietary supplements such as cod liver oil and evening primrose oil.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who ate the most omega-3 fatty acids combined, or individually as DHA and EPA, had a 40% lower risk of colon cancer than people who had the lowest amount of these fatty acids in their diet. In contrast, no association was found between colon cancer risk and arachidonic acid—a fatty acid abundant in animal foods like red meat and dairy.
“The observed different effects of different types of fatty acids underline the importance of type of fat in the etiology and prevention of colorectal cancer,” concluded the researchers.
What You Can Do
While little can be done about your family history, research has shown that the following steps may help reduce colon cancer risk.
- Eat more fiber and vegetables—Especially eat those from the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage)
- Limit or avoid alcohol
- Eat foods rich in folic acid—This nutrient, often found in green vegetables, helps protect the colon against precancerous changes; this is especially important in people who drink alcohol regularly.
- Eat less meat and incorporate some oily fish or cod liver oil into your diet
- Get regular physical exercise—Research has shown that exercise decreases the risk of colon cancer and other cancers.
- Maintain a healthy body weight
(Am J Epidemiol 2007;doi:10.1093/aje/kwm063)
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Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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