Fruits, Vegetables and Colorectal Cancer What’s the Connection. Part 1

Scientists estimate that about one-third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year may be attributable to dietary factors. It is often suggested, therefore, that individuals can reduce their risk of getting cancer by increasing or decreasing their consumption of certain foods. But just when you think you are eating the “right” foods in the “right” amounts to prevent cancer, a new study comes out telling you otherwise.

In the Nov. 1 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers report that the frequent consumption of vegetables and fruits does not appear to provide protection from colorectal cancer. However, for years, people have been told to eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits to reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Researchers from Harvard’s Medical and Public Health Schools, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, assessed the diets and occurrence of colon and rectal cancer at periodic intervals in two large study groups: the Nurse’s Health Study (88,764 women) and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study (47,325 men). The results suggest that those who increase their intake of fruits or vegetables lower their risk for colorectal cancer — a finding that challenges the popular belief that colon cancer can be prevented through diet.

But this popular belief has been supported by many epidemiological studies that have found a protective association between fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of colorectal cancer. So then, what is one to think when hearing conflicting reports from studies on diet and colorectal cancer, or any cancer for that matter?

The diet and cancer relationship continues to be a topic of interest and debate. The American Cancer Society acknowledges that researchers seeking to determine the optimal diet to reduce the risk of cancer and other major diseases have made important contributions that have helped them and other organizations develop nutritional guidelines. The ACS, however, points out that “the exact relationship between dietary ingredients and cancer is elusive, and many major questions remain.”

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