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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 12:28 GMT
Vegetables 'don't fight cancer'
healthy plate
Veggies may not be as healthy as we thought
A healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables may not be doing people quite as much good as they previously thought.

Researchers conducting two of the world's biggest health studies have found that those who eat more fruit and vegetables do not have a lower risk of bowel cancer.

The same researchers recently concluded that fibre also has no protective effect against the disease.

Bowel cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the UK, with 34,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

But US doctors have declared themselves disappointed that studies of 135,000 people have not found that eating fruit and vegetables reduce the chance of developing it.

In two long term studies, the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, people's eating habits were charted in detail.

The health staff studied mainly ate a typical American diet, with only 2% eating the recommended four or five helpings of vegetables a day.

The participants have been followed for 16 years and those eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables do not appear to have a reduced risk of developing bowel cancer.

Junk food

Lead researcher, Karin Michels from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University urged people not to opt for a diet of junk food in the light of the findings.

"Even though we couldn't find an association with colorectal cancer, fruit and vegetables definitely protect for other important diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and potentially other cancers.

"These are some of the best foods we can eat - there is no doubt about it," she maintained.

Dr Michels said she feared sending out the wrong message to people, but had no choice but to report her findings, which were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

These are some of the best foods we can eat - there is no doubt about it

Karin Michels, Brigham and Women's Hospital

She also stressed that other factors may account for the result, including the large number of obese people included in the study.

"We know that red meat consumption increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Obesity, smoking, exercise, all have an effect," she said.

Dr Lesley Walker of the Cancer Research Campaign also pointed to the strengthening evidence that red meat, obesity and lack of exercise are risk factors for bowel cancer.

And she cautioned against drawing conclusions from one set of results, particularly when so few participants ate the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.

"In this country we simply do not eat enough fruit and vegetables for good bowel health - we spend more money on laxatives than we do on cancer treatments," she said.

Dr Michels also suggested that diet earlier in life may be a factor.

"I think that adolescent diet may be important. Maybe it is important what we ate 30 years ago. I don't have the foggiest idea," she added.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Health
Super-broccoli 'to fight cancer'
19 Nov 99 | Medical notes
Bowel cancer
07 Jun 99 | Medical notes
Cancer: What to eat to beat it
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