A diet that includes nuts could have a dramatic impact on a person’s chance of colon cancer recurrence, an observational study found.
The study’s findings will be presented at the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.
Researchers found that among people in the study who had stage 3 colon cancer and ate 2 ounces or more nuts or more per week — about 19% of the 826 patients — there was a 46% lower chance of cancer recurrence than among participants who ate fewer than 2 ounces of nuts per week. And those who at nuts also had a 53% lower chance of death than those who didn’t.
These results came from people who ate tree nuts — almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans. There wasn’t a reduction in cancer recurrence and death in people who reported eating peanuts, which is technically a legume.
The data came from an observational study that started in 1999, asking people to record their diet as part of a larger clinical trial of people with stage 3 colon cancer who underwent treatment. Nuts have also been linked to a lower incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
A lower chance of cancer death in colon cancer isn’t the only condition nuts have been linked with. Nuts are a component of the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and breast cancer.
Beyond what researchers found regarding tree nuts, a second study based on the same lifestyle survey data collected in the colon cancer trial found that patients who reported a healthy lifestyle after having surgery had a 42% lower chance of death than those who didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. That healthy lifestyle included staying at a healthy weight; regular exercise; and a diet high in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and low in red and processed meat.
What these results can and can’t tell us
For patients with colon cancer who have had surgery, a healthy lifestyle or a diet high in nuts is linked with a lower chance of recurrence and death.
However, it’s important to note that these results don’t suggest that someone with early stage cancer can forgo standard colon cancer treatment in favour of a nut-filled diet or a healthier lifestyle, ASCO member Dr. Daniel Hayes said in a media briefing.
For now, the results of both studies are just based on observations. “Ultimately, we need to understand how nuts confer this protective effect, as well as possibly conduct a randomised, controlled clinical trial where diet recommendations are given at the start of the study to prove that tree nuts can reduce recurrence and death after treatment for colon cancer,” Dr. Temidayo Fadelu, one of the authors of the study and a clinical fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
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