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Study Finds DASH Diet Lowers Cancer Risk

Study Finds DASH Diet Lowers Cancer Risk
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People who regularly eat a DASH diet may lower their risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 20%
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or “DASH” diet is well-known for its blood pressure–lowering effects, and now research suggests this healthy eating pattern may also help prevent cancer. A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that people who regularly eat a DASH diet may lower their risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 20%.

Eating your way to better health

Prior studies have suggested that the Mediterranean diet may help lower the risk of death from colorectal cancer, but few have looked at whether the DASH diet might have similar effects. Both diets are plant-based and emphasize eating an abundance of fruits and veggies, limiting red meat, and eating whole grains and nuts.

In this large study, researchers assessed the dietary information of 87,256 women and 45,490 men who did not have cancer and followed them for up to 26 years. Results showed that men and women who most closely followed a DASH diet had a 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared with people who followed it the least.

There was no statistically significant association between eating the Mediterranean diet and lowering the risk of colorectal cancer but study authors did discover that among components that differ between the DASH and Mediterranean diet, low-fat dairy products, which are part of the DASH diet, were associated with a reduced colorectal cancer risk.

“Although the DASH diet was originally designed for blood pressure reduction, several characteristics, such as higher intakes of whole grain and lower intakes of red and processed meat, are similar to the Mediterranean diet and may suggest a potential for colorectal cancer risk reduction,” said Teresa T. Fung, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, and her colleagues.

More cancer prevention tips

The good news is that there are a number of actions people can take to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer. Read on!

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk of several types of cancer including colorectal cancer, so don’t smoke or seek professional guidance if you need help quitting.
  • Limit alcohol. Excessive alcohol drinking may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Follow your doctor’s recommendations or national guidelines, which suggest that healthy women should not consume more than one drink per day and healthy men no more than two drinks per day.
  • Watch calories. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of several types of cancer including colorectal cancer. Maintain a healthy weight as a cancer prevention measure.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercising every day is part of a healthy play to avoid chronic diseases such as cancer. National guidelines suggest that adults exercise 60 minutes a day for optimal health. That amount is intimidating for lots of people, but fortunately plenty of studies show benefits from any exercise at virtually any age (with your doctor’s blessing if you are managing health conditions). So, start small—but do start!—and then build slowly.
  • Ask your doctor about cancer prevention screening tests. And finally, regular preventive screening tests save lives from colorectal cancer. Specific screening tests for colorectal cancer include checking a stool sample for blood (may be a sign of colorectal cancer), or having a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy test. Talk with your doctor about screening measures that are appropriate for you.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:1429–35.)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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