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How does high fat in the diet lead to colon cancer?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers uncover how a high fat diet leads to colon cancer.

Eating a high fat diet is linked to increased risk of developing colon cancer. Researchers from Temple University say they have discovered how sugar and fat in the diet alter metabolic pathway genes to lead to cancer.

According to the study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, carbohydrates, fat and amino acids that are commonly consumed in the Western diet changes an important process involved in encoding genes, called DNA methylation.

For the study, the researchers compared DNA methylation in normal colon mucosa between patients with colon cancer and patients without cancer. They found differences in the way fats are metabolized that changes gene expression in the patients with cancer.

When DNA is replicated, methylation occurs, which is an epigenetic process that changes the way genes are expressed. Epigenetic changes are normal, but they can also lead to disease.

Specifically, the researchers found high fat; sugar and high carbohydrate foods change the methylation pattern of insulin genes that causes abnormal cell growth that can turn to pre-cancerous polyps and colon cancer.

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It turns out that cancer cells ‘feed’ on insulin. Fatty and high calorie foods promote unnecessary insulin production.

Carmen Sapienza, professor of pathology in Temple's Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology, the study's lead author said in a press release, "This study suggests how and why high fat diets are linked to colon cancer." Researchers haven’t understood how fat in the diet leads to cancer. He explains, "Insulin is only supposed to be expressed in your pancreas, so having this extra insulin is bad.”

People are more prone to develop colon cancer after age 50, making it unclear when methylation changes start. Sapienza says the theory is that metabolic pathways change first and then if any sort of cell mutation occurs it can lead to cancer. Past studies have also shown a high fat diet fuels the spread of cancer, correlating with the current finding.

The finding of how fatty foods can cause colon cancer could lead to better ways to detect the disease through saliva tests in addition to colonoscopy, which is the ‘gold standard’ for colorectal cancer screening.

Cancer Prevention Research
“Epigenetic Differences in Normal Colon Mucosa of Cancer Patients Suggest Altered Dietary Metabolic Pathways.”
Matthew L. Silviera, Brian P. Smith, Jasmine Powell, and Carmen Sapienza
March, 2012

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If the research shows that it is a combination of carbohydrates, fat and amino acids that cause the problem, how is the conclusion that the thing which needs to focused on and reduced the fat? Especially when the biological response that they're concerned about is insulin, which is triggered to manage blood sugar? Why not try reducing the carbohydrates, instead?
I suspect it's a combination, with high fat being the biggest culprit.
I agree with that. Every time they do a study with "high fat", it's NEVER just high fat. There's always a substantial amount of sugar/carbs included. But it's always the fat that's evil. It amaze me that there are loads of people without medical degrees who can see that. Scientists themselves apparently fail to notice....that's why I stopped caring about these studies
Maybe this will help. Fat contributes to insulin spikes. Carbs raise blood sugar levels. Neither is good for risk of disease: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/66/2/323.abstract
I think it relates to fats that have not been digested, such as in dairy fats. Many people are allergic to dairy or have an intolerance to dairy. Both seem to interfere with the digestive processes, leading to undigested fats being deposited in adipose tissue.
I totally agree. A low carb, higher fat diet will reduce the insulin levels. Since it is the insulin that is the basis of the problem it would make sense to reduce carbs and control insulin production in the body. How did they decide that it should all be about far when they chose their slant on this?
It's sugar and fat - eating a diet that is 'fattening' may be a better way to describe the finding. Maybe that helps?
Also "linked to" doesn't mean "proven to". I'm sick of seeing all these observational studies that mean absolutely nothing... but make great sensationalized headlines. Show me some triple-blind clinical trials that prove beyond all doubt that fat raises insulin levels.
You can wait for those, sure. This information can be helpful for anyone wanting to be proactive about their health. Those studies take years. I appreciate the research, on a personal note. If you're at high risk from family history, this could be VERY useful. And you're correct "linked" to doesn't mean proven. Understanding disease is a step by step process. This is another step forward.