Most people have heard by now that increased consumption of meat can be a major risk factor for cancer development – especially when it comes to cancer of the colon. And despite loud protests by the meat industry itself, evidence continues to mount that there is indeed a link between a diet high in meat and the onset of this disease. And not all meats are created equal – red meats such as beef and pork constitute the highest risk. Vegetarians are quick to point out that, apart from environmental or ethical issues, this health risk is yet another good reason to follow a plant-based diet. However, it appears that matters are not quite so simple as that. While recent research indicates that a vegetarian diet does in fact lower the risk of colon cancer, it appears that the risk is reduced even more significantly if that diet includes the consumption of fish.
The results of the new study
This latest study on the relationship between diet and colon cancer was recently published the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Some of the results were not surprising and confirmed the findings of other studies in regards to the relationship between cancer and meet consumption: Vegetarians have a 22 percent lower risk of all forms of colorectal cancer than non-vegetarians, a 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer development and a whopping 29 percent lower risk of developing cancer of the rectum.
The first part of this study did not particularly come as a shock to researchers. They speculate that this kind of diet is associated with lower colorectal cancer risk for many reasons. First, vegetarians tend to consume higher levels of fruits and vegetables than other Americans: Many of these foods contain powerful antioxidants with known cancer-fighting properties. Also, vegetarian diets tend to be high in fiber and a fiber-rich diet has repeatedly been associated with better colon health and less of a chance of developing colon cancer.
Now here comes the surprise…
The benefits of the pesco-vegetarian diet
What surprised scientists who were participating in this study was that, while the vegetarian diet was good for preventing colon cancer, a pesco-vegetarian diet was even better. In other words, a diet that is largely plant-based but does include regular consumption of fish was found to be the best for warding off this particular form of cancer.
Taken by numbers, pesco-vegetarians had a 27 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer than strict vegetarians and an incredible 42 percent lower risk than those who eat meat! Scientists suspect that this difference is due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids that fish are so rich in. These fatty acids have, in multiple studies, shown to decrease cancer risk due to their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In conclusion, it appears that those who are wanting to truly reduce risk of colorectal cancer should do so with a diet that both includes a moderate amount of fish and excludes meat and other animal products. The combination of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids is obviously a winning combination for colon health.