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Mutat Res. 1996 Feb 19;350(1):185-97.

Dietary fiber and the chemopreventive modelation of colon carcinogenesis.

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Institute for Disease Prevention, George Washington University Medical Center, Washington DC, USA.


Comparative international epidemiological data indicate that the difference between the highest and lowest colon cancer incidence is approximately 10-fold. This suggests that the dominant causes of colon cancer are environmental rather than genetic in origin, with the dominant environmental cause being the typical diet of Western industrialized countries. Many epidemiological and experimental studies have suggested an important role for dietary fiber in the prevention of colon cancer. Using the Fischer-344 rat as the experimental model, data clearly demonstrate a strong protective effect of a diet that is low in fat, high in fiber and high in calcium (low-risk diet). Such a diet prevents the development of both preneoplastic aberrant crypt foci (ACF) and colon tumors. Recent experiments have also demonstrated a direct relationship between a ras point mutation in ACF at different stages of rat colon carcinogenesis, and a ras point mutation that is subsequently present in colon tumors. Using wheat bran as the model dietary fiber source, its effects were compared to the effects of psyllium, phytic acid, vitamin E, beta-carotene, folic acid, alone or in combination, for their ability to prevent colon cancer in rats on high-risk Western-style diets. Our studies clearly demonstrated the ability of wheat bran to reduce ACF and colon tumors in rats that consumed high-fat, Western-style diets. Although phytic acid, which is a constituent of wheat bran, alone demonstrated strong cancer-preventive potential, our experiments provided evidence for the cancer-preventive effect of the crude fiber fraction that is independent of the effect of phytic acid. The synergistic combination of wheat bran with the soluble fiber psyllium led to enhanced protection; while the combination of wheat bran with beta-carotene showed only an additive effect. Beta-carotene appeared to show higher protection than wheat bran at an intake level that is nutritionally relevant to humans, suggesting the possibility of using beta-carotene to enhance the effects of dietary fiber in high-risk Western populations. Using ACF as an intermediate endpoint, it was also shown that vitamin E and beta-carotene appear to inhibit progression of ACF to colon cancer, while wheat bran and folic acid appeared to have weak cancer-preventive potential at this late stage of carcinogenesis. In conclusion, wheat bran alone, or in combination with psyllium, appears to have greater potential to inhibit earlier phases of carcinogenesis, while beta-carotene and vitamin E may also inhibit later stages of carcinogenesis. Despite considerable epidemiological and experimental evidence that increasing the fiber and lowering the fat content of the Western diet could substantially reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, the real challenge is to find effective ways to educate and motivate people to overcome their intrinsic cultural resistance to such changes in their eating habits.

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