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Vegetarian diet may reduce risk of colorectal cancer

Vegetarian diet lowers risk of colorectal cancer

Eating a vegetarian diet may help lower a person's risk of colorectal cancer, according to new research.


Doctor Michael Orlich, an assistant professor of medicine and public health at Loma Linda University, and his colleagues used medical records, dietary questionnaires, and cancer registries to study the link between eating habits and cancer prevalence in a nationwide sample of over 77,000 Seventh-Day Adventists. The Church of Seventh-Day Adventists recommends a well-balanced vegetarian diet that avoids the consumption of meat and avoidance of tobacco, alcohol, and mind-altering substances.

The researchers found that pescovegetarians, which they defined as a vegetarian who eats fish at least once a month and meat less than once a month, reduced their risk of colorectal cancer by 43 percent. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, those who consumed eggs and dairy less than once a month, reduced their risk by 18 percent. Vegans, who consumed fish, eggs, dairy, and meat less than once a month, reduced their risk of colon cancer by 16 percent.

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"We weren't expecting the pescovegetarians to show the lowest risk," Dr. Orlich told Medscape Medical News. "But the finding for pescovegetarians, compared with nonvegetarians, was highly statistically significant, so this is very unlikely to be due to chance."

The study was published online in JAMA Internal Medicine on March 9.

Colorectal cancer, a term used for cancer that starts in the colon or rectum, is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20, with a slightly lower risk in women than men.

A previous study found that a certain bacteria found in the mouth can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that patients with colorectal cancer had high levels of Fusobacteria, and were also depleted of Clostridia, a bacterium that helps digest fiber and carbohydrates and causes some types of food poisoning.