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Ann Arbor - Are all healthy eating plans the same when it comes to cancer prevention?
Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center studying whether
diet can impact a person's risk of developing colon cancer. Specifically, the researchers compare a
Mediterranean diet - high in olive oil, nuts and fish - with a standard healthy eating plan.
"Overall eating patterns appear to be more important for cancer prevention
than intakes of specific nutrients or
food groups. We hope this study will give us an indication of the benefits that a person's diet can have on health,
especially in terms of reducing the risk of colon cancer," says
Zora Djuric, Ph.D.
, research professor of family
medicine at the U-M Medical School
and principal investigator on the
Healthy Eating for Colon Cancer Prevention study.
The study is looking at adults age 21 or older who have had colon polyps, colon cancer or a family history of colon
cancer. Researchers need to recruit 120 participants over three years. Participants will be randomly assigned to
follow either the Mediterranean diet or the Healthy People 2010 diet for six months. A dietitian will work closely
with each participant by telephone. Participants can choose foods they prefer from recommended food group lists. Note:
the study is now closed to accrual.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, fish and olive oil. High fat meats and
processed foods are limited. The comparison diet is the Healthy People 2010 diet, which is the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services' plan for healthy eating. The Healthy People 2010 diet involves eating plenty of fruits
and vegetables, whole grains and a moderate fat intake with limits on saturated fat.
Study participants assigned to the Mediterranean diet will be encouraged to limit polyunsaturated fats from
foods such as corn oil in favor of monounsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and fatty plant-based foods such as
olives. Mediterranean diet participants will also be expected to eat seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables,
including herbs, and get protein primarily from low-fat sources such as poultry, fish and legumes.
Previous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Some
evidence suggests the Mediterranean diet causes changes in the colon that would prevent cancer.
In 1997, U-M researchers concluded a study of 70 women ages 25-65 who were randomly divided between following a
Mediterranean diet or following their usual dietary habits. The researchers found the study participants were able
to stick to the Mediterranean diet throughout the study. The women following a Mediterranean diet decreased the
amount of polyunsaturated fat they ate by 50 percent while increasing the amount of healthy monounsaturated fats
by the same amount. The women also ate twice as many fruits and vegetables as those following their regular diet.
This doubled the blood levels of carotenoids, which are antioxidant micronutrients from fruits and vegetables.
Researchers believe changes in dietary fatty acids from the higher monounsaturated fat intake with a Mediterranean
diet will decrease the levels of certain proteins in the body that are linked to the development of colon cancer.
At the same time, other cancer-protective compounds are expected to increase because of the Mediterranean diet.
In addition to following the diet plan, study participants will be screened in person three times during the
six-month study. Participants who complete the study will receive $300.
In addition to Djuric, U-M study investigators are Dean Brenner, M.D., professor of internal medicine and
pharmacology; Mack Ruffin, M.D., professor of family medicine; and Kim Turgeon, M.D., clinical associate professor
of internal medicine.
Funding for the study is from the National Institutes of Health. Note:
the study is now closed to accrual.
For information about the Healthy Eating for Colon Cancer Prevention trial, call the Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125.
Written by Nicole Fawcett
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