Two weeks of high-fiber, low-fat diet brings changes that protect against colon cancer; high-fat diet brings changes with more risk

Two weeks is all it took for a change in diet to increase production of a substance in the gut that may reduce the risk of colon cancer, according to a recent study, published in Nature Communications.

The study asked 20 African Americans in Pittsburgh and 20 rural South Africans to switch diets for two weeks. The Americans were fed a high-fiber, low-fat diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, cornmeal and very little meat, while the Africans were given a diet high in fat with lots of meat and cheese, Sindya N. Bhanoo reports for The New York Times.

“We made them fried chicken, burgers and fries,” Stephen J. D. O’Keefe, a gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the study’s authors, told Bhanoo. “They loved it.”

After two weeks, colonoscopies on the volunteers found that the African Americans who ate the traditional African diet had “reduced inflammation in the colon and increased production of butyrate, a fatty acid that may protect against colon cancer,” Bhanoo writes. Africans who ate the Western diet had changes in their gut bacteria “consistent with an increased cancer risk.”

African Americans are disproportionately affected by colon cancer, while the disease affects few people in rural Africa, Bhanno notes.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in the U.S. and is expected to cause about 49,700 deaths during 2015, according to the American Cancer Society. Kentucky leads the nation in both incidences and deaths from colorectal cancer, with 51.4 cases per 100,000 people and 18.7 deaths per 100,000, according to the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

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