SEP 13, 2017 03:04 PM PDT
Whole Grains Can Lower Risk for Colorectal Cancer
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The link between diet and colon cancer has only grown stronger in the past few years. But now, scientists say there’s something you can do about it – eat more whole grains! In a recent study, researchers found people who eat whole grains on a daily basis had a reduced risk of colon cancer.

Colon cancer, also known as colon cancer or bowel cancer, is the third most common non-skin cancer type in the world. The cancer usually begins as small, benign lumps of cells that form polyps in the colon. Without proper removal, these polyps can turn cancerous and cause symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, weakness, and fatigue. According to a recent report, the incidence of colorectal cancer is expected to increase by 60% to more than 2.2 million new cases and 1.1 million deaths by 2030.

Several recent studies have linked high consumption of red meats and processed foods with increased risks for colon cancer. Other risk factors include being overweight, and alcohol consumption.

But if dietary habits can influence colon cancer for the worse, can a healthy diet do the reverse? Indeed, a new report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that fiber and grains can lower the risk for colon cancer.

The AICR/WCRF study analyzed data from 99 studies, which amounted to a collective 29 million people. Overall, they found that people who ate just three servings (about 90 grams) of whole grains daily effectively reduced their odds of colorectal cancer by 17 percent. Results also suggest that the more fiber and grains you eat, the lower your risk becomes.

"Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers, yet this report demonstrates there is a lot people can do to dramatically lower their risk," said Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and the study’s lead author. "The findings from this comprehensive report are robust and clear: Diet and lifestyle have a major role in colorectal cancer."

On the topic of other lifestyle habits, people who were more physically active were also reducing their odds of colon cancer.

"Many of the ways to help prevent colorectal cancer are important for overall health. Factors such as maintaining a lean body weight, proper exercise, limiting red and processed meat and eating more whole grains and fiber would lower risk substantially. Moreover, limiting alcohol to at most two drinks per day and avoidance or cessation of smoking also lower risk," said Dr. Giovannucci.

Of note, the study also cited other links between diet and colorectal cancer that require further investigation. Foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges and spinach, show a modest risk reduction for colorectal cancer. On the other hand, not getting enough of fruits and vegetables, especially the non-starchy kind, could increase risk for this disease.

While these connections still need to be followed up, researchers say the trend is overwhelmingly pointing to a plant-based diet. "Replacing some of your refined grains with whole grains and eating mostly plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables and beans, will give you a diet packed with cancer-protective compounds and help you manage your weight, which is so important to lower risk,” said Alice Bender, the AICR Director of Nutrition Programs. "When it comes to cancer there are no guarantees, but it's clear now there are choices you can make and steps you can take to lower your risk of colorectal and other cancers.”

Additional sources: American Institute for Cancer Research via Science Daily

  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at

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