Plant-based diets may slash men’s risk of bowel cancer by 22%, according to study

Author: Maria Chiorando

Read Time:   |  29th November 2022

A major US study of 79,952 men found those eating the highest proportions of healthy plant-based foods were at a lower risk of bowel cancer

Men can reduce their bowel cancer risk by eating a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, which involved 79,952 US-based men, found that those eating the highest level of healthy plant-based foods could slash their risk by up to 22 per cent compared to those eating the lowest amounts.

However, this association was not found for the 93,475 women who participated in the research.

Participants were asked to detail how often they consumed particular food and drink items, including portion size, from a list of 180 options.

These options were divided into food groups including animal foods (for example, meat, dairy, eggs, fish or seafood), less healthy plant foods (these included food like potatoes and refined grains among others), and healthy plant foods like vegetables and legumes.

Bowel cancer risk

The study’s corresponding author, Jihye Kim from Kyung Hee University, South Korea, said: “Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and the risk of developing colorectal cancer over a lifetime is one in 23 for men and one in 25 for women.

“Although previous research has suggested that plant-based diets may play a role in preventing colorectal cancer, the impact of plant foods’ nutritional quality on this association has been unclear.

“Our findings suggest that eating a healthy plant-based diet is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.”

Dr Kim added that researchers speculated that ‘antioxidants found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could contribute to lowering colorectal cancer risk by suppressing chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer’.

Men and women

Discussing why they found a link between men’s risk of the disease and diet, but not women, Jihye Kim noted that men tend to have a greater risk colorectal cancer generally.

She added: “We propose that this could help explain why eating greater amounts of healthy plant-based foods was associated with reduced colorectal cancer risk in men but not women.”

Dr Kim also discussed the link researchers found between the disease and race and ethnicity, with Japanese American men seeing a 20 per cent risk reduction, but white men seeing a 24 per cent reduction.

She said: “We suggest that the association between plant-based diets and colorectal cancer risk may have been strongest in Japanese, American and white men due to differences in other colorectal cancer risk factors between racial and ethnic groups.

“However, further research is needed to confirm this.”

The study’s authors also cautioned that due to the study being observational, no conclusions could yet be made about a causal relationship between plant-based food intake and colorectal cancer risk.

Adopting a plant-based diet can seem daunting, make it easier by checking out our newbies’ guide to creating a balanced, healthy vegan meal plan.

Featured image credit: Elena Nechaeva via Getty Images

Written by

Maria Chiorando

Maria is an editor and journalist. Her work has been published by the Huffington Post, the Guardian, TechnoBuffalo, Plant Based News, and Kent on Sunday among other national and regional titles.

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