Go vegetarian and reduce your colon cancer risk

veggies on cutting board Colorectal cancer remains the second most deadly cancer in the U.S., behind lung cancer, responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths each year. When it comes to protecting your colon, a recent study found that eating a vegetarian diet can give you an edge. Just how much does diet affect your risk? According to the study, across all types of vegetarians there was a 22 percent overall reduced risk for colorectal cancers when compared with nonvegetarians.

Vegetarians who showed the highest protection against colon cancer in the study were fish-eating vegetarians, or pesco-vegetarians. This group showed a 43 percent lower risk of colorectal cancers than nonvegetarians. The addition of fish to a vegetarian diet ensures receiving all of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which includes reducing risk factors for heart disease.

Also included in the study were vegans, those who avoid all animal-related foods, including dairy. This group had a 16 percent lower risk of colon cancer. Finally, lacto-ovo vegetarians, those who avoid meat but eat eggs and consume dairy, had an 18 percent lower risk than nonvegetarians.

Overall, the study suggests that limiting red meat and focusing on fruits, vegetables and whole grains likely can help reduce your colon cancer risk. These foods are high in fiber, an important element of digestive health.

Along with a healthy diet, here are five more ways you can reduce your risk of colon cancer:

  1. Get screened. The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer testing beginning at age 50 for most people.
  2. Exercise regularly. Living a sedentary life can increase your risk for colon cancer, as well as heart disease and other dangerous conditions.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying excess weight increases your risk of both getting and dying from colon cancer.
  4. Quit smoking. Smoking is a known risk factor for many forms of cancer, including colon cancer.
  5. Drink responsibly. Heavy drinking can also put you at risk for colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink a day for women.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Talk with your provider about reducing your risk of colon cancer and scheduling a screening, if appropriate.