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Can Diet Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

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A reader of Scientific American Consumer Health's Digestive Disorders White Paper asks: "I have a family history of colorectal cancer, and I want to do everything I can to protect myself. Is there any special diet I should follow?" Here's our advice.

Past research has found that diets high in red meat may increase the risk of colorectal cancer, while high-fiber diets may decrease the risk. Logic suggests that vegetarian diets, which tend to be meatless or low in meat and high in fiber, would be beneficial. Research published last May in JAMA Internal Medicine has found support for that idea.

To evaluate the association between a vegetarian diet and colorectal cancer, researchers examined data on 77,659 Seventh-Day Adventists, many of whom are vegetarian at some level: vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian or semi-vegetarian. Over the course of about seven years, colorectal cancer was diagnosed in 490 of the research population, but less in vegetarians, particularly pesco-vegetarians, whose diets include fish. The researchers concluded that vegetarian diets of all sorts were associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer.

Vegetarian diets are associated with a number of health benefits, including healthy body weight, less hypertension and reduced risk of diabetes. Reduced risk of colorectal cancer may be another reason to consider vegetarianism, particularly if eating fish on occasion makes it more palatable.

Diet intervention alone is not considered powerful enough to prevent colon cancer in high-risk patients. A good screening regimen, ideally with regular colonoscopy, is the best defense. 


Posted in Digestive Health on February 21, 2016

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

What about other cancers like breast, prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer? Are the data equally compelling?

In addition to diet, many publications and doctors say that low dose aspirin may help prevent colon cancer. I know two individuals who, following a colon cancer diagnosis and treatment (surgery and chemotherapy), were placed on an aspirin regimen for the rest of their lives to reduce the risk of recurrence. Does aspirin help prevent other cancers?

Posted by: AndyGpost | February 21, 2016 11:47 AM

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Digestive Disorders White Paper

Discover exciting advances and the most useful, current information to help you prevent or treat conditions affecting the digestive tract. You'll find a thorough overview of what the medical field knows about upper and lower digestive tract disorders (including everything from gastroesophageal reflux disease [GERD] to peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome to colorectal polyps) and conditions that affect the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

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