Heavy drinking, lots of red meat boost colon cancer risk, study finds

Limiting red meat may help reduce risk for colon cancer, a new study has found. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Limiting red meat may help reduce risk for colon cancer, a new study has found. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Heavy drinking raises a person's risk for colon cancer significantly, while a diet high in red meat also raises it to a lesser extent, according to an analysis published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open.

Such drinking increases colon cancer risk by nearly 60%, and eating lots of red meat boosts it by more than 10%, the data showed.


But a high intake of calcium, dietary fiber and yogurt can reduce risk for the disease by around 20%, researchers said.

The dietary links are based on a review of findings from 45 meta-analyses, or research projects, that include data from multiple studies that, taken together, offer "convincing evidence of an association" between diet and colon cancer risk, researchers said.

"Emerging evidence supports a possible role for overall dietary patterns that, in totality, emphasize habitually consuming fruits, vegetables grains and low-fat dairy," study co-author Nathorn Chaiyakunapruk told UPI.

The evidence also supports "reducing red meat and alcohol intakes" to lower disease risk, said Chaiyakunapruk, a professor of pharmacotherapy at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy in Salt Lake City.

More than 100,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colon cancer annually, according to the American Cancer Society, which has long touted the benefits of a healthy diet in lowering disease risk.


Although general guidelines have emphasized limiting consumption of red meat and alcohol and adding fruits and vegetables, research on what specific foods impact colon cancer risk is limited.

In their review of data from 45 meta-analyses that represent dozens of studies, Chaiyakunapruk and his colleagues found "strong evidence" that high intake of dietary calcium reduces colorectal cancer risk by 23% compared to lower intake.

Similarly, high intake of dietary fibers reduces risk for the disease by 16% compared to lower intake, while a high intake of yogurt reduces risk by 19%.

Meanwhile, heavy drinking increased colorectal cancer risk by 58% compared to lower alcohol consumption or non-consumption.

And, high intake of red meat also increases risk for the disease by 13% compared to lower intake.

Based on the findings, people should avoid "consuming approximately two or more alcoholic drinks per day [and] limit consumption of red and processed meat," Chaiyakunapruk said.

In addition, "include dairy products in your daily diet, especially yogurt [and] increase consumption of total fiber -- fiber from whole grains, cereals and fruits and vegetables," he said.

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