Fruits, Vegetables and Colorectal Cancer What’s the Connection. Part 2

Complicating factors the ACS listed include:

    • The complexity of the diet in terms of biochemical components.
    • There are more than 100 types of cancers with a variety of possible causes.
    • It is difficult to do controlled studies on human populations
    • Cancer takes many years to develop; therefore, it is hard to prove cause and effect.
    • Dietary ingredients may increase as well as decrease the risk of cancer.

Given the complexities of research on the diet and cancer relationship, are scientists being too glib by advising consumers to increase consumption of vegetables and fruits to prevent cancer?

“It would be imprudent to ignore the impact of diet on other causes of death when making recommendations concerning dietary practice and cancer prevention,” noted John Morgan, Dr.P.H., a cancer epidemiologist and associate professor of public health at Loma Linda University. “Recommendations need to be based on the consistency of findings across studies,” Morgan added.

Morgan also points out that it is very unlikely that dietary constituents act alone. Other components of the diet aside from vegetables and fruits, as well as lifestyle factors, need to be taken into consideration.

The American Institute for Cancer Research, a major proponent of research related to diet, nutrition and the prevention and treatment of cancer, advised the public not to misinterpret or overstate the latest findings from the Harvard study.

“The study cannot and does not make any kind of definitive statement about the role of diet upon the risk of colon cancer,” announced AICR’s Melanie Polk, R.D., M.M.Sc.

Furthermore, the AICR points out that subjects in the two cohorts consumed far less than the five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits that it recommends for protection against cancer. As for whether or not those who consume only moderate amounts of fruits and vegetables — say three to four servings — gain any benefit in terms of reducing their risk of colorectal cancer, the AICR states that this is an area that warrants further investigation.

In an editorial accompanying the Harvard study, Drs. Andrew Flood and Arthur Scharzkin note that while the recent findings may weaken belief in the theory that high vegetable and fruit consumption lowers risk of colorectal cancer, this idea is “still very much worthy and alive of continued investigation.” Other possible benefits from a diet rich in vegetables and fruits appear to be reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Today, one study might report that certain foods or food groups prevent cancer. Tomorrow, another study might support the opposite,” noted Gilbert Ross, M.D., medical director for the American Council on Science and Health. “The message, however, remains the same: Continue to eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits,” he added.

“Regardless of how effective we’re in generating persuasive evidence that vegetables and fruits may decreaserisk of colorectal cancer, these products will continue to have an important role to play in human disease and health,” Flood and Scharzkin concluded.

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