AICR Ever Green, Ever Healthy
September 2003
Topic: Cancer

Fiber: The Colon Cancer Fighter
by the American Institute for Cancer Research

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in men and women. Finding ways to reduce the risk of its occurrence is an important research focus. Currently, the evidence suggests that increasing the amount of fiber you eat is one of the best means of prevention.

Still, there is a lingering controversy about the relationship between fiber and colon cancer. A few studies have not supported a connection. That is why the spring 2003 results of the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer) study were so eagerly awaited. EPIC is the largest diet-cancer study ever undertaken. It has tracked the diets of over 500,000 people with ages ranging from 24-75 in 10 European countries for about 4.5 years. The study found that those individuals who ate the most fiber (about 35 grams a day) reduced their risk of colon cancer by 40 percent, compared to those who ate the least fiber (about 15 grams a day).

Overall, the mass of evidence to date suggests that up to 75 percent of colon and rectal cancers could be prevented, if people ate a mostly plant-based diet that is naturally high in dietary fiber.

The Fiber Connection

The original idea that fiber could help prevent colon cancer was based on observations of populations who had a high-fiber diet. People in those places, like China, have a typical diet that is higher in fiber and lower in fat than in the United States. They also have a lower incidence of heart disease and certain cancers, including colon cancer.

One reason fiber-rich diets are thought to help lower cancer risk is quicker elimination of waste. Dietary fiber bulks up the stool and speeds bowel movements, ridding the body of possible carcinogens sooner. It is also thought that fiber reduces the amount of bile acids, which may promote cancer in the intestinal tract.

Putting Fiber in Your Diet

Dietary fiber is exclusively in plant foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. A diet including plenty of these foods also contains important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals that help fight cancer.

Nutrition experts recommend that adult men 50 or younger should eat 38 grams of fiber, while women should eat 25 grams. For men and women over 50, the recommended levels are 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women, respectively. These amounts of fiber can be met by simply eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and making sure most of your daily servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta come from whole grains, like whole wheat. Refined grains are much lower in dietary fiber. Beans are also an excellent source of fiber.

As you increase the amount of fiber you eat each day, proceed gradually. Be sure to drink more water, too.

To receive more information on preventing colon cancer, call the American Institute for Cancer Research at 1-800-843-8114, ext. 10, and request Diet, Nutrition and Cancers of the Colon and Rectum.

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