Although perhaps not the most glamorous public health issue, colorectal cancer has been getting a fair amount of air time lately. That’s because a new report from the American Institute of Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund ﬁnds that whole grains are one of the top recommendations for preventing colorectal cancer. Speciﬁcally, they found that about 3 servings of whole grain foods per day (90g) reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%.
Better yet, every little bit counts. The researchers identiﬁed a dose-response relationship, meaning that smaller amounts of whole grains are linked with a lower risk, while larger amounts may oﬀer even greater protection. These ﬁndings are notable because of the depth of the research – 99 studies encompassing 29 million people were analyzed—and because this is the ﬁrst time that whole grains have been independently linked to lower cancer risk (as opposed to being part of an overall healthy diet, or a high-ﬁber diet).
The colon and rectum are the ﬁnal stations at the end of your digestive tract, so it stands to reason that the foods you eat may help impact your risk of developing this cancer. Fiber gets much of the attention when it comes to digestive health and colorectal cancer prevention, but what the authors of this new report found was that the evidence for whole grains is actually stronger than the evidence for ﬁber alone.
Although ﬁber is a known nutrition powerhouse, whole grains have a number of other bioactive compounds in addition to ﬁber, many of which are thought to have plausible anti-carcinogenic properties. These include vitamin E, selenium, copper, zinc, lignans, phytoestrogens, and phenolic compounds. Additionally, the authors reason that “Whole grains may also protect against colorectal cancer by binding carcinogens and regulating glycemic response.”
In addition to eating more whole grains and foods containing ﬁber, the report found strong evidence that physical activity, dairy products, and calcium supplements may help decrease colorectal cancer risk, while processed meats, alcoholic drinks, body fatness, red meat, and tall height are associated with increased cancer risk.
The origins of cancer are frustratingly elusive, so when researchers discover lifestyle changes that may help temper the odds, it’s in everyone’s best interest to take those ﬁrst few steps down a cancer preventative path. Today, we’re unveiling our new infographic (see above) about whole grains and colorectal cancer. Share these ﬁndings on social media, tagging @oldwayspt and @aicrtweets, then head to the kitchen and whip up your favorite whole grain dish!
Kelly Toups, Director of Nutrition