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More evidence a veg diet might lower cancer risk

Another study supports the idea that between vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets can prevent colon cancer.
/ Source: TODAY

Here’s another reason to go veg, if you haven’t already: Another study supports the idea that between vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets can prevent colon cancer.


While it’s still not clear whether it’s eating more fruits and vegetables or cutting out meat that makes the difference, the researchers say it’s more strong evidence in favor of a plant-based diet.

Dr. Michael Orlich of Loma Linda University in California and colleagues looked at 77,695 Seventh-Day Adventist men and women who have been taking part in a long-term study of health and diet. Seventh-Day Adventists are encouraged to eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and other unhealthful habits. Many are vegetarian or vegan, but some eat fish and some eat certain meats such as chicken or lamb.

Over seven years, vegans and vegetarians had about a 22 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, Orlich’s team reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine.

People who ate fish but not meat seemed to have the lowest risk of colon cancer – 43 percent lower than people who ate meat. Orlich's team says the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may be responsible. Vegetarian sources include walnuts and flaxseed oil.

The findings fit in with studies that show plant-based diets can reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and the risk of early death.

“Although reduction in meat intake may be a primary reason for the reduced risk demonstrated in vegetarians, an increase in the consumption of various whole plant foods might also contribute to the reduction,” Orlich’s team wrote.

“Vegetarian diets are full of healthy, cancer-fighting phytochemicals that work as antioxidants, immune boosters,” said Hillary Sachs, a registered dietitian at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute who was not involved in the study.

“In addition, vegetarian diets are rich in fiber, helping to support regular bowel movements," Sachs added. "Vegetarian diets are also low/void of red meats, a factor that has been associated with colorectal cancer incidence.”

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, after lung cancer. It kills close to 50,000 Americans a year and is diagnosed in about 133,000.

“It is important to note that the incidence of colorectal cancers was very low to begin with – 490 out of 77,695 participants,” said Madelyn Fernstrom, TODAY Health and Nutrition Editor.

“This study points out yet another reason to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet: eat real, whole foods and cut down on processed foods,” she added. “For overall good health, it looks like a diet that’s good for colorectal health is the same as the one that’s good for the heart, the brain, and your waistline.”

The federal government recommends a plant-based diet and the latest advice on dietary guidelines specified that people should take it easy on the red meat and eat more fruits and vegetables. Such diets don't just lower cancer risk -- they lower the risk of heart disease,stroke, and diabetes.

This story was originally published on March 9 at 5:17 p.m