March 1 (UPI) -- If patients with stage III colon cancer regularly eat nuts, they have a lower of recurrence and death, according a study.
A study led by researchers with the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Conn., published Wednesday, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is said to be the first to spotlight the effects of nut intake on colon cancer.
Previously, nut intake has been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance -- conditions often linked to colon cancer.
"These findings are in keeping with several other observational studies that indicate that a slew of healthy behaviors, including increased physical activity, keeping a healthy weight, and lower intake of sugar and sweetened beverages, improve colon cancer outcomes," Dr. Temidayo Fadelu, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a Yale press release. "The results highlight the importance of emphasizing dietary and lifestyle factors in colon cancer survivorship."'
The clinical study included 826 participants who were followed for a median of 6.5 years after treatment with surgery and chemotherapy.
Participants who consumed at least two, one-ounce servings of nuts each week had a 42 percent improvement in disease-free survival and a 57 percent improvement in overall survival, researchers report.
In addition, disease-free survival increased by 46 percent among the subgroup of nut consumers who ate tree nuts rather than peanuts. Tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans. Peanuts are in the legume family of foods.
In previous studies, nuts were found to reduce insulin resistance, which is often a predecessor to type 2 diabetes and related illnesses.
"These studies support the hypothesis that behaviors that make you less insulin resistant, including eating nuts, seem to improve outcomes in colon cancer," Fuchs said. "However, we don't know yet what exactly about nuts is beneficial."
Fuchs noted that nuts also may satisfy hunger more effectively than other unhealthy foods. A one-ounce serving of about 24 almonds is about 200 calories, including 14 grams of fat.
"People ask me if increasing nut consumption will lead to obesity, which leads to worse outcomes," Fuchs said. "But what's really interesting is that in our studies, and across the scientific literature in general, regular consumers of nuts tend to be leaner."
In an earlier analysis of diet in the same group of people, the researchers found a significant link between coffee consumption and reduced recurrence and death in colon cancer.
"First and foremost I talk about avoiding obesity, exercising regularly and staying away from a high-carbohydrate diet," he said. "Then we talk about things like coffee and nuts. If you like coffee or nuts, enjoy them, and if you don't, there are many other helpful steps you can take."
Fuchs said the nut consumption can make as much difference as drugs.
"Overall, we are working to apply the same rigorous science to the understanding of diet and lifestyles in the colon cancer patient population that we apply to defining new drugs," Fuchs said.