LOMA LINDA, Calif., March 9 (UPI) -- Want to escape the second leading cause of cancer-related death, colorectal cancer? Start eating more vegetables. Better yet, supplement a healthy vegetarian diet with fish.
A new study looked at the diet and health results of some 77,000 Americans and found those who stuck to a vegetarian diet had a 22 percent lower chance of developing colon and rectal cancers. Those who ate vegetables and fish had their colorectal cancer risk diminished by 43 percent.
"Our vegetarians not only ate less meat than the non-vegetarians, but also less sweets, snack foods, refined grains and caloric beverages," Michael Orlich, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Loma Linda University in California, told HealthDay.
All of the participants in the study were Seventh Day Adventists, a Protestant Christian denomination with which Loma Linda is associated. The religion promotes a very healthy lifestyle and diet, and it has consistently produced some of the longest-living Americans.
"There's a history going back to the 1950s of studies on Seventh-day Adventists, and most have found that they're healthy, long-lived populations, so it's interesting to probe and see why," Orlich told the Wall Street Journal.
As to the nutritional mechanism at work, researchers can't say anything definitive. Dietary studies, such as this one, can do their best to tease out correlations, but they can't isolate cause and effect.
"That's the problem in dietary studies of cancer," said Dr. Alfred Neugut, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center. "We don't know exactly what the connection is."
Still, the results lend credence to previous studies that have suggested the positive health results of high fruit and vegetable intake, while highlighting the risk of diets high in red meat.
The new study was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.