Cancer: Scientists find ‘microbial link’ between one popular diet and the deadly disease

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There is proof that a healthy diet is a major determinant in the survival and prevention of cancer. This is particularly true of colon cancer, which is often caused by poor diet. According to a new study, one dietary pattern may lead to colon cancer by altering bacteria in the gut.

The new study suggests intestinal microbiota may be at the heart of the association between the Western diet and colon cancer.

The findings reinforce previous research linking a Western-style diet – rich in processed meat, sugar, refined grains and carbohydrates – to the disease.

The corresponding author of the study, Shuji Ogino, said: “These findings support our hypothesis that Western-style diets increase colorectal cancer risk through its effects on pks E.coli.

“This is the first study to link the Western diet with specific pathogenic bacteria in cancer. Our next question is which component of western-style diet and lifestyle relates to colorectal cancer containing this bacterial species.”

The team of researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital drew the conclusion from an analysis of data from more than 134,000 participants.

Dietary patterns were analysed alongside DNA from E.coli strains found in more than 1,000 colorectal tumours.

The focus of the study was on identifying bacterial strains carrying the distinct enzyme known as polyketide synthase (pks).

This enzyme has previously been shown to cause mutations in human cells, which is a key characteristic of cancer.

The team found that the Western diet was associated with colorectal tumours containing high amounts of pks+E.coli, but not tumours containing little to no amount of pks+E.coli.

The American Cancer Society explains: “Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer.

“Also, eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats), which have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.”

Scientists have offered various explanations for the relationship between processed meat and cancer.

One blames heterocyclic amines (HCAs) – a byproduct of meat released during exposure to high heat.

Harvard Health adds: “HCAs may play a role, but since high levels can also be present in cooked chicken, they are unlikely to be the whole explanation.”

Another potential culprit implicated in the case of processed meats is preservatives, particularly nitrates.

These preservatives, which are converted to carcinogenic nitrosamines during digestion, aren’t present in fresh meat, however.

A more prudent dietary approach may involve higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes and whole grains.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is often referred to as hidden cancer because it rarely produces symptoms in the initial stages.

The disease affects men equally, usually after the age of 50.

It arises when damaged cells acquire the ability to proliferate quickly, a process which has several known triggers.

The most effective way to diagnose the disease is with a colonoscopy – a procedure that involves the insertion of a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end through the anus and up through the colon.

The camera will help doctors identify any polyps, which will be removed during the procedure and sent to a laboratory for testing.

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