A DIET packed with a rich variety of fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of bowel cancer, according to research.
Regularly tucking in to brassica vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli and eating more apples has been linked to a lower risk of suffering from the disease.
However, drinking a lot of fruit juice was actually shown to increase the risk of bowel cancer.
Research from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research in Perth, decided to look at the affect eating a diet rich in health-boosting fruit and vegetables has on bowel cancer.
It has long been known that diet is strongly linked to incidence of the disease.
Figures released earlier this year revealed that the modern couch potato lifestyle of not doing enough exercise and eating junk food has led to a doubling of bowel cancer rates in men in the UK since the 1970s.
There are now at least 21,500 men and 17,400 cases in women each year and the disease kills 16,259.
Experts claim that eating a fibre-packed diet of more than 30g a day could save the lives of around 4,500 people a year.
The UK average is just 12g of fibre a day with only one per cent of people eating the recommended 30g.
Previous research has also warned that red meat is linked to bowel cancer and processed meats should be avoided altogether.
A person’s chance of suffering from certain types of bowel disease rises by between a quarter and a third if they eat more than 4oz (120g) a day of red or processed meat.
In this latest study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the researchers investigated the link between fruit and vegetables and three cancers in different parts of the bowel.
The study included 918 participants with bowel cancer and 1,021 control participants with no history of the disease.
They all completed extensive medical and nutritional questionnaires and were assigned a socioeconomic status based on their home address.
Researchers found that brassica vegetables was linked with a lower risk of the disease occurring in the proximal and distal colon.
Eating more apples and dark yellow vegetables like carrots and pumpkins was linked to a lower risk of cancer in the distal colon.
But an increased consumption of fruit juice was associated with an increased risk of rectal cancer.
Previous bowel cancer studies have not distinguished between the different sites of origin of cancers in the large bowel.
This is despite it being recognised that tumours in the proximal colon develop along different pathways to those of the distal colon and rectum and that risk of cancer varies by subsite.
The researchers stated: “Our findings indicate that the association between intake of fruit and veg and colorectal cancer may be different according to the location of the cancer.
“The risk of proximal colon cancer seemed to be decreased with increased intake of brassica vegetables; the risk of distal colon cancer seemed to be decreased with increased intake of brassica vegetables, apples and dark yellow vegetables, whereas the risk of rectal cancer was increased by increased intake of fruit juice.
“It may be that some of the confusion about the relationship between diet and cancer risk is due to the fact that previous studies did not take site of colorectal cancer into account.”
Nell Barrie, senior science communication’s officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This isn’t a large study and it doesn’t give us clear answers about whether different fruits and vegetables affect the risk of cancer in different parts of the bowel.
“It’s very tricky to tease apart the effects of a person’s diet on their risk of bowel cancer, but reliable evidence shows that eating lots of red and processed meats increases the risk, while eating plenty of high fibre foods can reduce the risk.
“Many fruits and vegetables are a good source of fibre, and eating a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables could reduce the risk of other types of cancer as well, so it’s a good idea to get plenty of them in your diet.
“Cancer Research UK scientists are taking part in the largest ever study of diet and cancer to find out more about which foods affect a person’s risk of the disease.”
Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer said: “These results are interesting, but more work is needed before we can make claims about the effects of different fruit and vegetables on the risk of developing bowel cancer.
“What we do know is that a healthy diet with a high intake of fibre, fish and fruit and vegetables and low intake of fat, red and processed meat and alcohol, can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.
“It is also important to be aware of the symptoms, because although a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to reduce your risk, bowel cancer can affect anyone.
“For everyone, there is one clear message – bowel cancer can be beaten and the key to this is early diagnosis.”