The Healthy Eating–Cancer Protection Link Gets Stronger
November 21, 2007—More and more research is demonstrating what many people already consider common sense: that a healthy diet can help keep us disease-free. The latest evidence comes from a new study showing that three different healthy diets may protect against colorectal cancer in men, and that one of these diets also reduces risk in women who smoke and who are not overweight.
Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States. Smoking, having a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight all add to colon cancer risk, but eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of fiber, and eating less red meat can reduce the risk.
A study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, looked at the influence of three different diets on colorectal adenoma, a benign tumor that can lead to colorectal cancer:
- The US Department of Agriculture Food Guide recommendations (previously known as the US Food Guide Pyramid) are intended to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. This plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while restricting saturated fat and sugar. It also specifies the number of daily servings from specific food groups.
- Another set of USDA dietary recommendations—the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet—has been found to lower blood pressure and reduce cardiac risk. This plan also emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; restricts saturated fat and sugar; and specifies the number of daily servings from specific food groups.
- Many nutritionists recommend a Mediterranean diet because it has been linked to good health and heart disease prevention in numerous studies. The Mediterranean diet does not dictate specific amounts of foods, but it emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids such as olives, olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds.
The people in the new study—3,592 with precancerous colorectal polyps and 33,971 without evidence of polyps or cancer—answered food questionnaires, which were analyzed and scored for how well they matched the USDA Food Guide, the DASH diet, and the Mediterranean diet.
Men whose diets compared most closely with the USDA Food Guide had a 26% lower risk of colorectal adenoma than men whose diets were least comparable. Close adherence to the DASH diet resulted in 25% risk reduction, and adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduced risk by 21% in men. In women, only the USDA Food Guide eating pattern was associated with protection from colorectal adenoma, in those who smoked or were not overweight.
“Consuming a variety of foods from different food groups at the minimum daily amounts recommended by the US Food Guide Pyramid while maintaining saturated fat, added sugar, and alcohol intakes below the recommended daily intake limits was associated with significant reduction in risk of colorectal adenoma in men and women,” the researchers concluded. “Findings from our study suggest that following current US dietary recommendations or a Mediterranean dietary pattern could improve colorectal cancer prevention and control, especially in men.”
(J Nutr 2007;137:2443–50)
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Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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