Good news for fish lovers. A systemic review and meta-analysis conducted on 41 studies finds that those who eat lots of fish might reduce risk of colon cancer and rectal cancer.
The analysis is one of many reports to suggest eating fish is very good for your health. The work focused on fresh fish, though the study authors can’t say what varieties of fish were eaten, or how they were prepared.
Doctors know that cooking temperatures may well have an impact on colorectal cancer. This comes from recent studies that have found eating meat and fish that’s BBQ’d or grilled over a high heat appears to bring an increased risk of cancer.
Researchers in China examined 41 studies on fish intake from places like the U.S., Norway, Japan and Finland and others that were published between 1990 to 2011. The findings show that consumption of fish is inversely (intake goes up, the disease risk goes down) associated with colorectal cancers.
Frequently eating fish was linked to a 12% reduced risk of having (or dying from) cancers of the colon or rectum according to the researchers. The effect of eating fish was strongest for the rectal cancers – those who consumed the greatest volumes of fish showed a 21% lower risk of rectal cancer compared to those who consumed the least amount. For colon cancers the reduction in risk was just a few percentage points, meaning it may have been down to chance.
This finding held even after accounting for family history of these cancers, age, alcohol intake and red meat consumption as well as other known risk factors.
Another study published in February 2012 found that women who ate three portions of fish each week had a lower chance (a 33% reduction in fact) of risk of colon polyps than did women who ate fish less often. Doctors now know that nearly all cancers of the colon begin as benign polyps on the lining of the intestinal tract that if given time develop into cancer. This is why having recommended screenings, at the appropriate ages, is so important. Still one in three adults skip this potentially life saving procedure. A dangerous choice.
The American Cancer Society tells us that colorectal cancer is one of the leaders in terms of cancer related deaths in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 143,000 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer during 2007, the most recent statistics available. The good news is that catching these cancers early can often lead to a full cure.
The take home message? If you eat a lot of fish today, eating more might not necessarily be better. But if you don’t, adding a serving to your diet can’t hurt. Many experts believe that the foods we eat (high fat, low fiber, lots of red meat) play a role in the risks of certain types of cancers. And while this latest study doesn’t prove beyond doubt that eating lots of fish can reduce risk of colon cancer, enjoying a few servings of this nutrient rich food certainly can’t do you any harm, and may well do much good. After all, many delicious types of fish are a natural source of beneficial omega-3 essential fats.
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