Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 09:37 GMT
Eating fibre 'won't prevent cancer'
The report will come as a shock to nutritionists
Eating high-fibre food will not limit the chances of getting bowel cancer, according to new research from the United States.
High-fibre diets have been recommended by doctors since the 1970s after scientists noticed that bowel cancer in Africa - where vegetables and grain is the staple diet - was rare.
"Women who ate a high-fibre diet were just as likely to develop colon cancer as women who ate a low-fibre diet," said Charles Fuchs, who led the team based at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. His report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The research studied 90,000 nurses. By 1996, it found that 800 had developed bowel cancer.
There was no significant difference between those who had eaten a high-fibre diet and those who had not.
Some doctors have called for a re-think on pro-fibre campaigns as a result.
But others claim the women studied were not representative of the general population.
Dr John Toy of the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) said there were "some question marks".
Only women were used in the study when there are differences in the way bowel cancer develops in men and women.
Also, the nurses were likely to have a high interest in health.
The CRC is involved in a cross-European study of 400,000 people of fibre and bowel cancer. The preliminary results should be available in two years.
Dr Toy advised people to continue to eat a fibre-rich diet, saying it also protected against heart disease, diabetes and other bowel disorders.
Dr Sheila Bingham, assistant director of the Dunn Human Nutrition Centre in Cambridge, said the bulk of research indicated that eating fibre did ward off bowel cancer.
She said: "My advice is to follow the Department of Health guidelines which say we need to be eating more fibre in the form of vegetables and whole grain cereal."
Bowel cancer kills 17,500 a year in the UK.
But UK ministers have already pledged to cut the number of deaths of the under-65s by a fifth over the next 10 years.