People who eat plenty of foods linked to chronic inflammation, such as red meat and refined grains, may be more likely to develop colorectal cancer than individuals who tend to avoid these foods. That’s according to a new U.S. study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests.
Researchers examined more than two decades of U.S. survey data on eating habits and cancer diagnoses for 74,246 female nurses and 46,804 male health professionals. They sorted participants into five groups based on how likely it was that their daily diets could contribute to inflammation.
Compared to people with diets that had the least potential to cause inflammation, individuals with diets that were most likely to cause inflammation were 32 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer during the study.
Foods that contribute to inflammation
An inflammatory diet has a high intake of red meat, processed meat, organ meat, refined (white) grains and sugary beverages. It’s also characterized by a low intake of tea, coffee, dark yellow vegetables and green leafy vegetables.
Men with the most pro-inflammatory diets were 44 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than men with diets that were least likely to cause inflammation.
The lead researcher said an inflammatory dietary pattern will chronically stimulate the bowels, leading to the production of a constantly higher level of inflammatory chemicals in the blood, chemicals that may contribute to the development of colon cancer.
Women with the most pro-inflammatory diets were 22 percent more likely to get colorectal tumors.
The risk of developing colorectal cancer was even higher among overweight or obese men and lean women, and also among men and women who didn’t consume alcohol.
Important risk factors for colorectal cancer are family history, personal history of polyps or cancer, certain diseases such as ulcerative colitis, and not getting screened. Not smoking, maintaining a normal weight and taking aspirin are associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.
Limitations of the current study include its reliance on survey participants to accurately recall and report what they ate and drank. The study also wasn’t a randomized controlled experiment, so it doesn’t prove cause and effect.
Even so, the findings offer fresh evidence that a typical Western diet full of pro-inflammatory foods like meat and processed grains and low in fruits and vegetables can lead to health problems.
The study also adds to previous evidence that a pro-inflammatory diet is associated with several types of diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
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