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Dietary changes can lower colon cancer risk in families with a history of the disease

k of developing certain diseases.

Fuchs, who is also on staff at BWH and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, analyzed information from 88,758 nurses whose family health histories and dietary habits were recorded in the database. He focused on behaviors known to be associated with colon cancer to see if any were particularly helpful or harmful in people with a family history of the disease.

He found three: A diet high in folic acid, high in methionine (an essential amino acid), and low in alcohol intake, when followed at least five years, reduced colon cancer risk much more sharply in those with first-degree relatives who had the disease than in those without such a family history. Although all the study participants were women, Fuchs contends theres no reason to think the results do not apply to men as well.

Participants with a family history of colorectal cancer who consumed low-folate diets were 2.5 times more likely to develop colon cancer than similar individuals who did not have a family history. In contrast, among participants on a high-folate diet, those with a family pattern of colorectal cancer did not experience any significant increase in colon cancer risk compared to those without such a pattern. It appeared that either a high-folate diet or use of folate-containing multivitamins virtually eliminated the excess risk of colon cancer associated with a family history of the disease, Fuchs explains.

While folic acid is found in fruits and vegetables and products made with enriched flour, obtaining the high levels tracked in the study 400 micrograms a day can be easily achieved by taking a multivitamin, Fuchs says. The quantity of alcohol consumption that appeared to increase the risk associated with a family history was greater than two glasses of wine per day.

The findings around methionine are more complicated. While high levels of the nutrient were shown to reduce the influence of a
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Contact: Bill Schaller
william_schaller@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-4090
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
14-Mar-2002


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