Cancer of the colon and rectum is one of the most common cancers in Brazil. The National Cancer Institute of Brazil estimates that over 32 thousand men and women develop colon or rectal cancer yearly. A recent large study suggested that one way to prevent this cancer is to follow a vegetarian diet.
But this study, published March 9, 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that not all vegetarians diet are alike regarding the protective effect. Vegetarian diets that included fish in their diets had the lowest incidence. Here are the specifics depending on type of vegetarian diet:
Vegan Vegetarian (no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy): 16% lower risk of colon/rectal cancer compared with meat eaters
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians (no meat but do eat dairy and eggs): 18% lower risk compared with meat eaters
Pesco-vegetarians (no meat but do eat fish): 43% lower risk compared with meat eaters
The researchers, who studied over 77,000 mean and women, also found that “semi-vegetarians”—who ate meat but not more than once a week—had an 8% lower risk compared with people who eat meat more regularly.
This study does not prove that a vegetarian diet will decrease your risk of colon/rectal cancer, as other factors are involved, but the researchers tried to make sure that other factors, such as cigarette or alcohol consumption, did not influence their results.
Particularly if you have a higher risk of colon/rectal cancer (such as a family history of this cancer), this study offers one way to likely decrease your risk—lower your consumption of red meats. Meats, particularly red meats and especially processed meats such as hot dogs, cold-cuts, and sausages, have been strongly linked to various cancers, including colon cancer. Meats cooked at high temperatures are especially high risk, since the high temperatures appear to interact with the meat to form carcinogenic chemicals (chemicals that cause cancer).
So while eating red meats seems to increase your risk of cancer, eating lots of vegetables and fruits likely decrease your risk. This is probably a function of the high fiber content in fruits and vegetables, as well as the high antioxidant content (not found in meats). Further, this study suggests that adding fish to your diet is protective against colon and rectal cancer, and probably this is due to the high omega-3 fatty acid content in many fishes.
Besides eating red meats, other risk factors for colon and rectal cancer include: obesity, inactivity, smoking, and heavy alcohol use.
Fortunately, this type of cancer typically grows slowly, and, when discovered in an early stage, is very curable. You can read more about the symptoms, prevention, and treatment of this disease on the site of the Hospital Albert Einstein or the American Cancer Society.
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