Many contemporary diets contain large amounts of red meat, fat, and sugar – which can put you at increased risk for developing colon cancer.
But can a shift in your diet reverse the damage done in terms of cancer risk? And by how much? These are questions scientists have been asking recently, and the answers have been found in numerous studies.
Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in developed nations, so prevention is a high priority for those with an investment in public health.
A 2014 study in the journal Nature Communications examined the diets of African American residents of Pittsburgh, and compared them the diets of villagers living in rural South Africa. They compared and contrasted their rates of colon cancer, then had the two groups essentially swap diets for two weeks.
The results were staggering: in just two weeks of the diet reversals, inflammation and other biological markers for colon cancer were down in the Pittsburgh residents, and elevated in the South African residents(1).
What Caused The Risk Reduction?
What caused the biological markers for colon cancer to go down in the Pittsburgh residents, while the residents of South Africa showed increased levels of colon cancer risk after such a brief period?
Scientists believe it has to do with the fibre content of the South African diet, as well as the fat and sugar content of the American diet.
It’s no secret that a diet high in fibre can significantly decrease your risk for developing colon cancer(2). But that switching to a high-fibre diet after a lifetime of eating a less health-conscious diet can have such a quick impact on one’s risk for colon cancer was startling to scientists.
The changes in cancer risk may also have something to do with the changes in gut microbes in the two groups. Gut microbes fed by the high-in-fibre African diet produced by of a chemical known as butyrate, which is noted for its anti-cancer properties. Meanwhile, the high-in-fat American diet caused microbes to produce more bile acids, which may increase cancer risk(3).
It’s Never Too Late To Switch To A Healthier Diet
What’s the ultimate take-away scientists are hoping people will get from this study? Mainly that it’s never too late to reduce your risk for colon cancer, according to Jeremy Nicholson, a senior co-author on the study.
“What is startling to me is how profoundly the microbes, metabolism and cancer risk factors change in just two weeks of diet change,” he told The Guardian(4).
“It means to me that diet and environment and microbial genes are likely to be much more important than individual human genes in determining individual colonic cancer rates… Certainly it shows that your possible fate is not just determined by the genetic dice at birth. How you roll the dice in the game is probably more important.”