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J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2003 Mar;12(2):173-82.

Diet, body weight, and colorectal cancer: a summary of the epidemiologic evidence.

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Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the number of new cases annually is approximately equal for men and women. Several nutritional factors are likely to have a major influence on risk of this cancer. Physical inactivity and excessive adiposity, especially if centrally distributed, clearly increase the risk of colon cancer. Hyperinsulinemia may be an important underlying risk factor. In conjunction with obesity and physical inactivity, which induce a state of insulin resistance, certain dietary patterns that stimulate insulin secretion, including high intakes of red and processed meats, saturated and trans-fats, and highly processed carbohydrates and sugars, may increase the risk of colon cancer. There is evidence suggesting that some component of red meat may independently increase the risk of colorectal cancer, and some micronutrients may be important as protective agents. Currently, the evidence is strongest for folate and calcium. Folate may be especially important in alcohol drinkers because alcohol appears to increase the risk, particularly when folate intake is low. This interaction may be related to the antifolate properties of alcohol. In contrast to earlier studies, more recent epidemiologic studies have generally not supported a strong influence of dietary fiber or fruits and vegetables, although these have other health benefits, and their consumption should be encouraged. The majority of colon cancers, as well as many other conditions, may be prevented by lifestyle alterations in the intake of these nutritional factors, in addition to other factors, such as smoking.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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