According to a study, consuming a plant-based diet abundant in healthy plant foods which include legumes, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in unhealthy plant foods such as added sugars, fruit juices, and refined grains is linked to a reduction in colorectal cancer risk.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE DOI: 10.1186/s12916-022-02623-7
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer globally and the risk of getting colorectal cancer over a lifetime is 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women. Even though prior studies have indicated that plant-based diets could contribute to the prevention of colorectal cancer, the effect of the nutritional quality of plant foods on this connection hasn’t been clear.
The study determined that in a population of 79,952 men, those with the highest average daily consumption of healthy plant-based foods had a 22% reduced colorectal cancer risk, in comparison to individuals who consumed the lowest amounts of healthy plant foods.
However, no significant associations were discovered between the plant-based diets’ nutritional quality and the risk of colorectal cancer in a population of 93,475 women.
The researchers hypothesize that the antioxidants found in foods which include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits could play a role in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer by suppressing chronic inflammation, which can contribute to cancer.
Since men generally have a higher colorectal cancer risk compared to women, the researchers suggest that this might explain why consuming greater amounts of healthy plant-based foods was linked to reduced risk of colorectal cancer in men but not women.
To examine the connection between colorectal cancer risk and plant-based diets, the researchers analyzed data collected from individuals who were recruited to the Multiethnic Cohort Study. Male participants were an average age of 60 years and female participants were an average age of 59 years at the start of the study.
Participants reported their usual drink and food consumption throughout the preceding year and the researchers evaluated if their diets were high in plant-based foods they deemed as healthy, which included legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, or unhealthy such as added sugars, fruit juices, and refined grains relative to other participants.
The number of new cases of colorectal cancer until 2017 was then calculated by making use of data acquired from cancer registries. The researchers took into account participants’ daily energy intake, multivitamin treatment and use, alcohol consumption, physical activity levels, smoking history, BMI, family history of colorectal cancer, and age.
They also took into account the use of hormone replacement therapy by the female participants. Throughout the study, 4,976 participants developed colorectal cancer.
The researchers caution that the observational nature of the study doesn’t allow for conclusions regrading a causal connection between plant-based food intake and the risk of colorectal cancer.
They also didn’t take into account the beneficial effects that foods that included dairy and fish could have in lowering the risk of colorectal cancer in their analyses. Also, as the diets of participants were recorded at the start of the study, they might not be representative of their diets over a lifetime.
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