Digestive Health

20 May 2013

Diet swap provides clue to colorectal cancer risk

The results of a new digestive study have revealed changes in gut microbiota that could explain levels of colorectal cancer risk.

Research presented at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) explores new methods for managing digestive health through diet and lifestyle.

Building on growing knowledge about the human microbiome, research from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Pittsburgh, PA; Wageningen University, the Netherlands; and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, features new data on microbiota and colorectal cancer risk.

Researchers found a dramatic and rapid shift in gut microbiota after switching the diet in healthy subjects from a traditional Western diet to a Zulu African diet and vice-versa. Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the study's results show changes in gut microbiota that might explain levels of colorectal cancer risk.

Dramatic changes

"African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the US. The reasons for this are not yet understood," said Franck Carbonero, postdoctoral research associate at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Our findings offer insight into this disparity and pave the way for new research."

During the study, researchers fed 20 Zulu Africans 600 grams of meat per day for two weeks and fed 20 African Americans in Pittsburgh a traditional Zulu diet comprised primarily of a corn-based porridge called putu. Comparing stool samples before and after the diet exchange in each case, researchers found dramatic changes in colonic microbiota.

"Our results show that the human colonic microbiota is shaped by diet in a very dynamic manner," said Rex Gaskins, PhD, professor of Immunobiology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Not only that, we observed alterations in the balance of beneficial and detrimental microbial groups, which may explain, in part, the increase in colorectal cancer risk that is conferred by a Western diet."



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Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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