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Fiber and the Role of Bacteria in Colon Cancer: 6 Ways To Protect Colon

Fiber and Colon Cancer

Fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables protect against colon cancer in more ways than one.


Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in Americans, but many cases could be prevented with some lifestyle changes – including cleaning up your diet. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are widely known to have a positive impact because of their fiber content, but researchers have found a benefit for fiber beyond just keeping you “regular.”

The Role of Fiber in colon Cancer

When most of us think about fiber, we think about how it increases transit time of waste through the large intestine. If toxins hang around in there too long, you could be increasing your risk of intestinal cell damage that could lead to cancer. But that doesn’t seem to be the only reason why you should up your fiber intake.

Researchers with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston have found that a specific type of intestinal bacteria, known as Fusobacterium nucleatum, may play a role in the development of a certain type of colon cancer.

F. nucleatum is an invasive anaerobe that has been linked previously to periodontitis and appendicitis. It has most recently been found in inflamed digestive tracts. However, those who eat more whole grains and fiber have a lower risk of this bacteria.

"Though our research dealt with only one type of bacteria, it points to a much broader phenomenon -- that intestinal bacteria can act in concert with diet to reduce or increase the risk of certain types of colorectal cancer," said study co-senior author Dr. Shuji Ogino.

"The results of this study underscore the need for additional studies that explore the complex interrelationship between what someone eats, the microorganisms in their gut, and the development of cancer," Dr. Andrew Chan who is also a senior co-author.

Six Ways to Protect Your Colon Today

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The American Cancer Society suggests these 6 ways to help protect your colon health.

1. Get screened for colon cancer. Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. Colon screenings can often find growths called polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer. These tests also can find colon cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 50 for most people; talk to your doctor about when you should start and which tests might be right for you.

2. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon cancer. Eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats), which have been linked with an increased risk of colon cancer.

3. Get regular exercise. If you are not physically active, you have a greater chance of developing colon cancer. Increasing your activity may help reduce your risk.

4. Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon cancer. Eating healthier and increasing your physical activity can help you control your weight.

5. Don’t smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colon cancer.

6. Limit alcohol. Colon cancer has been linked to heavy drinking. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Jan. 26, 2017. Study published in JAMA Oncology.
Journal: Genome Research - Fusobacterium nucleatum infection is prevalent in human colorectal carcinoma

Photo Credit:
By The U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Kids ‘n Fiber, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons