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Heather Moore: Colorectal cancer in young people is a wake-up call
March 20, 2017
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The new American Cancer Society report showing that there’s been a sharp increase in colorectal cancer in people in their 20s and 30s might just be the kick in the pants that young people need to eat more vegan foods and less red and processed meats, which are linked to colon and rectal cancers.

According to the report, which compared different generations at similar ages, people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer of those born in 1950 when they were the same age. Experts aren’t sure why the rates have been rising, but they are confident that people can reduce their risk for colorectal cancer by eating lots of fiber-filled fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

In October 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed meats cause cancer and that red meat, including beef and lamb, is probably also carcinogenic. Soon afterward, scientists from Oxford University reported that eating one steak a week increases one’s risk of colorectal cancer by more than two-fifths and that people who eat meat twice a week have an 18 percent higher risk than do vegetarians.

This wasn’t exactly new news — a number of previous studies had shown that eating meat could raise one’s risk of colorectal cancer — but it caused an uproar anyway. Some people defiantly insisted that they weren’t going to change their unhealthy eating habits no matter what — a peculiar reaction considering that colorectal cancer can cause abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms.

Changing your diet can be daunting — I know. But in the end, it comes down to this: Would you rather undergo surgery, chemotherapy and other costly medical treatments or eat tasty vegan foods? Many physicians believe that colorectal cancer is nearly 100 per cent preventable if you follow healthy living recommendations. According to Kim Robien, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at George Washington University, “It is absolutely recommended to decrease — if not completely eliminate — processed meat intake to prevent cancer.”

Study after study has shown that ditching meat is an effective way to ward off colorectal cancer. A 2015 Loma Linda University study involving more than 77,000 men and women, for example, suggests that a plant-based diet can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by at least 22 percent.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine asked 20 African-Americans in Pittsburgh and 20 rural South Africans to “switch diets” for two weeks. At the end of the swap, they performed colonoscopies on all of the study participants. Those who had eaten the traditional African-style diet, which includes lots of fruit, vegetables, beans and cornmeal — and very little meat — had less inflammation in the colon and more of a particular fatty acid that may protect against colon cancer, while those who had eaten the typical American diet, high in meat and cheese, showed changes in gut bacteria that are consistent with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Just this month, a study in the journal Cancer Science revealed that Japanese men who eat lots of meat in general, and specifically red meat, are 36 per cent and 44 per cent more likely, respectively, to develop colorectal cancer than those who don’t eat much — or any — meat.

No matter what your age, race or nationality, you can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer — not to mention heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems — by eating plant-based foods rather than animal-based ones. And since March is National Colorectal Cancer Month, it’s the perfect time to ditch unhealthy animal-based foods and start eating delicious vegan meals instead.

Tribune News Service

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