Men eating ultra-processed foods are at increased risk for colon cancer

Men, before you eat that fast food burger with fries, washed down by a sugary beverage, stop at once. Published in The BMJ, new research shows a potential link between a steady diet of ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer. The study had more than 200,000 men and women living in the U.S. Each participant completed a food frequency questionnaire every four years that asked about the frequency of consumption of around 130 foods. 

The link between colorectal cancer and food choices

The third leading cause of cancer-related death among men and women in the United States is colorectal cancer. A known risk factor for increasing this disease is our diet, specifically, what we eat daily.

The primary way of eating that appears to increase the risk of colorectal cancer is the frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods are manufactured ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals, like TV dinners, that usually have a high addition of sugar, oils/fats, and refined grains that appear to alter the composition of gut microbiota and increase the risk of weight gain and obesity. Ultra-processed foods commonly lack health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, calcium, and vitamin D. They often contain chemicals like artificial sweeteners and dietary emulsifiers altering healthy gut bacteria that increase pro-inflammation within the gut microbiome that may lead to cancer within the colon. 

Ultra-processed meats such as bacon, sausage, ham, and pepperoni, often contain sodium nitrates like nitrosamines, are heat treated with acrylamide, or are packaged in containers with bisphenol A, each that may possibly promote the formation of carcinogens.

What the study found

Even though the study looked at men and women, men consuming the highest amount of ultra-processed food had a 29% higher risk than women of a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. However, the same finding was not shown in women who also consumed ultra-processed foods in higher amounts.

Researchers with the study were unclear as to why only men had a higher risk. However, what was shown was the most frequently consumed ultra-processed foods among men included meat, poultry, or fish-based, ready-to-eat products and sugar-sweetened beverages. 

The cancerous tumors primarily found in men occur in the distal or sigmoid colon that connects to the rectum. 

Best advice for men to reduce the risk of colon cancer

This study reminds us that what we eat matters to our health. For men, if you want to reduce your risk of colon cancer, reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods significantly. Replace these foods with more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and choose unprocessed fresh lean meat, poultry, and fatty fish. Eat natural foods containing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, promoting a healthy gut microbiome. 

The scientists also reminded men that besides a healthy diet, include daily exercise, adequate sleep, reach a healthy body weight, and schedule a colonoscopy to be screened for colon cancer. 

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncolo gy and prostate cancer 911.

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