New research links a diet loaded with inflammatory foods to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Researchers say the study brings us closer to recognizing how diet contributes to cancer risk, and its findings indicate inflammation may play an important role. “With this study, we are inching closer to understanding inflammation as a cancer risk,” said lead study author Fred Tabung, a research associate in the department of nutrition at Harvard. “There are several stimulators of chronic inflammation, and diet is one of those factors that can constantly stimulate the body toward a more chronic inflammatory state.”
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health followed 121,050 adults over a period of 26 years and categorized participants based on the degree their diets promoted inflammation. Those with the most inflammatory diets ate a lot of processed meats, red meat, organ meat, sugary beverages and refined grains. Their diets included very few vegetables, coffee, tea or wine.
The study found 2,700 newly diagnosed colon and rectal cancer cases within the very pro-inflammatory group during that 26-year span.
Women and men who ate a very inflammatory diet were found to be 32 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who ate healthier foods, researchers say. Women eating the most inflammatory diets had a significantly higher risk of developing cancer— 22 percent — relative to women eating the least inflammatory diets. The relative risk increase for men was even higher for men at 44 percent.
Marji McCullough, a nutrition epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society. encourages us to look at the big picture. “While it’s tempting to focus on specific foods, how overall diet contributes to this inflammatory effect is likely more important than individual foods because foods may act together in influencing disease risk,” she said.
She recommends including whole grains in the diet to add bulk and said whole grains may dilute carcinogens. McCullough also recommends cutting the amount of red meat and processed meat in your diet. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has previously identified processed meats as increasing the risk of colorectal cancer, and the agency said red meat probably does the same.
McCullough pointed out that the current study captured only some of the foods likely to influence inflammation. A good anti-inflammatory diet—such as the Mediterranean Diet— includes lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish and whole grains.
Getting anti-inflammatory nutrients from whole foods is probably the best idea, but supplements can help with chronic inflammation. Studies have found six supplements reduce inflammation: Alpha-Lipoic Acid, Curcumin, Fish Oil, Ginger, Resveratrol, and Spirulina. Check with your doctor before taking supplements if you have a medical condition or take medication. Make sure you follow the correct dosage.
The new study was published in the journal JAMA Oncology.