Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK affecting around one in 20 people. Diet is one of the factors that affect your risk of bowel cancer. There are foods that help (fruit, vegetables and fibre) and foods that harm – the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of bowel cancer.
Two of the most prestigious health bodies, The World Health Organisation and the World Cancer Research Fund, have both published reports describing the links between red and processed meats and bowel cancer.
The high fat content of meat may be to blame because fat increases the production of bile acids from the liver which can promote tumours in the bowel. Animal fat and protein also promote harmful bacteria in the bowel – the type of bacteria that produce toxic by-products and increase inflammation. And high-fat diets are also high-calorie diets and the balance between how much energy you take in and how much energy you use up is considered a major risk factor for a number of different types of cancer.
It may be the chemicals used to preserve and produce the colour and taste of processed meat that are to blame. Or the harmful chemicals produced when red meat and chicken are cooked at high temperatures. It may be the iron in meat which drives production of carcinogenic chemicals in our guts by stomach bacteria. All these things are ways in which meat can cause bowel cancer – it’s quite a recipe for disaster!
It’s not always possible to work out exactly what it is in meat that is doing the damage. Does it matter? A diet containing one of the usual suspects usually contains some or all of the others. Bowel cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among non-smokers in developed countries and its prevention should be a major goal for public health. Do yourself a favour and ditch meat.
A wealth of research shows that diets based on plant foods, high in fibre and low in fat help prevent bowel cancer. These diets also promote friendly gut bacteria that produce beneficial by-products and help keep our bowels healthy. Fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and pulses have been shown to be the cornerstones of a diet that reduces your risk of bowel cancer to a large extent.
Read more about Digestive Tract Cancers