Cancer Digestive Health Healthy Living

Reduce your colon cancer risk: A reason to go vegetarian?

Colorectal cancer remains the second most deadly cancer in the U.S., behind lung cancer, responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths each year. When it comes to
protecting your colon, a recent study found that eating a vegetarian diet can give you an edge. Just how much does diet affect your risk? According to the study, across all types of vegetarians there was a 22 percent overall reduced risk for colorectal cancers when compared with nonvegetarians.

“What we eat has been shown over and over to have an impact on our health,” said Nicole Moore, clinical dietitian at Augusta University Center for Obesity and Metabolism, “including the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases, like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.”

Perks highest for those who eat fish

Vegetarians who showed the highest protection against colon cancer in the study were fish-eating vegetarians, or pescatarians. This group showed a 43 percent lower risk of colorectal cancers than nonvegetarians. The addition of fish to a vegetarian diet ensures receiving all of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which includes reducing risk factors for heart disease.

Also included in the study were vegans, those who avoid all animal-related foods, including dairy. This group had a 16 percent lower risk of colon cancer. Finally, lacto-ovo vegetarians, those who avoid meat but eat eggs and consume dairy, had an 18 percent lower risk than nonvegetarians.

Overall, the study suggests that limiting red meat and focusing on fruits, vegetables and whole grains likely can help reduce your colon cancer risk. These foods are high in fiber, an important element of digestive health.

“The results of this study highlight the potential benefits of a wholefood, plant-based diet that limits carcinogens from red and processed meats and increases beneficial nutrients like fiber and antioxidants, and with the inclusion of fish a few times a week, omega-3 fatty acids.”

More ways to prevent colon cancer

Along with a healthy diet, here are five more ways you can reduce your risk of colon cancer:

  1. Get screened. The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer testing beginning at age 50 for most people.
  2. Exercise regularly. Living a sedentary life can increase your risk for colon cancer, as well as heart disease and other dangerous conditions.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight increases your risk of both getting and dying from colon cancer.
  4. Quit smoking. Smoking is a known risk factor for many forms of cancer, including colon cancer.
  5. Drink responsibly. Heavy drinking can also put you at risk for colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink a day for women.

Did you know?

About half of the colon cancer deaths in the United States could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older got screened. To make an appointment and learn about colorectal cancer screening or our digestive health services and providers, call us at 706-446-4887 or visit augustahealth.org/digestivehealth.

About the author

Augusta University Health

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.

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