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Study: Vegetarian Diet Lowers Risk of Colon Cancer

Can a vegetarian diet reduce an individual’s risk of developing colorectal cancer? That question is the centerpiece of a new study. The verdict: Yes.

Diet plays an important role in the risk of developing colorectal cancer, which is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to a report published [1]in the latest edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, a publication from the American Medical Association.

Consumption of red meat — especially processed meat — has been linked to an elevated risk of colorectal cancer. Now, there’s more evidence that skipping red meat altogether can pay major health benefits. The study tracked nearly 78,000 participants — men and women of different races — in 48 states.

“Vegetarian diets were associated with an overall reduced risk of colorectal cancer,” the study reported. “Compared with nonvegetarians, vegetarians had a 22 percent lower risk for all colorectal cancers, 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer and 29 percent lower risk for rectal cancer,” the study reported.

The American Cancer Society has highlighted the benefits of a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods and a limited consumption of red meat, says Lucette Talamas, registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health. “You don’t have to be a vegetarian to experience the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Just make sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains every day.”

And if you are a vegetarian, plan meals that deliver the right amount of nutrients, including Vitamin B-12, iron and protein, Ms. Talamas said. “With so many variations to a vegetarian diet, make sure to do your homework or seek out the expertise of a registered dietitian to assure you are consuming key nutrients.”

Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 130,000 people were newly diagnosed with colorectal cancer last year and more than 50,000 died from the disease.

With regular screenings and early detection, this cancer can be discovered when it is most treatable. More importantly, pre-malignant lesions and early cancers, when removed via colonoscopy, essentially provide therapeutic prevention and possible cure, explains Rosendo Collazo, D.O., a Baptist Health Medical Group physician with Baptist Health Primary Care.