Can a Vegetarian Diet Reduce Risk Of Cancer?

can vegetarian diet reduce risk of cancer

Is it possible to lessen your risk of cancer by eating primarily a vegetarian diet? Research has shown in recent years that eliminating especially meat products can reduce your risk of getting many kinds of cancers.

Vegetarian diets tend to be high in fiber, which is an independent factor in preventing cancer, particularly cancers of the digestive tract. Research done in the early 1970’s found that in those parts of the world where fiber intake is the highest, the incidence of colon cancer was the lowest (and vice versa). Areas like the U.S., where meat intake and therefore fiber intake is the lowest have the greatest number of people affected by colon cancer.

How a Vegetarian Diet Reduces the Risk of Some Cancers

Importance of High Fiber

No one can say for sure how fiber can be protective against colon cancer but doctors have some ideas. Fiber cannot be digested by the GI tract and it helps food move more quickly throughout the small and large intestines, carrying dangerous carcinogens from the diet past the GI tract and out of your body. Water is drawn into the colon by the fiber so that the dilution of carcinogens is greater.

Fiber is also believed to bind to bile acids from the gall bladder. Bile acids are changed into carcinogens by bacteria in the gut and if they are bound by fiber, they can’t become dangerous. Fiber is also fermented in the colon. This makes the GI tract more acidic, rendering bile acids less dangerous. Even breast cancer and stomach cancer are believed to be prevented by fiber, partly because of its effect on reducing carcinogens. In addition, fiber lessens the amount of estrogens circulating in the body. Unopposed estrogen is a known risk factor in getting breast cancer.

The best way to get fiber is to eat a vegetarian diet that contains whole fruits, vegetables, peas, lentils, beans and whole grains. An intake of at least 30-40 grams of fiber each day is optimal.

Avoidance of Harmful Fats

High fat consumption has been associated with colon cancer and breast cancer. The best way to lower your dietary intake of fat is to eat a vegetarian diet, which is naturally low in fat. Research has found that those countries with the lowest fat intake have lower rates of both breast and colon cancer. Cutting down on dietary fat can help you survive breast cancer, even after you have been diagnosed with the disease.

While vegetables can yield fats in products like vegetable oils, the fat derived from animals is considered more dangerous. A vegetarian diet eliminates animal fats, lowering your risk of cancer. Fats ingested from meats promote the increase in hormones, such as estrogen. As mentioned earlier, estrogen promotes breast cancer. Fat increases the amount of bile acids secreted by the gall bladder and this can cause colon cancer. To be safe, keep your dietary fat content to less than 15% fat.

Vegetarian Diet Offers Other Health Benefits

Vegetables contain many cancer-fighting molecules such as beta-carotene which is found in yellow and dark green vegetables. Beta-carotene can prevent many types of cancer, including lung cancer, bladder cancer, oral and laryngeal cancer.

  • Other important nutrients in vegetables include flavones and indoles, which are also found to be cancer fighting.
  • Antioxidants of all types are found in fruits and vegetables and have significant impact on blocking the formation of cancer.
  • Vegetarians have been found to have better immune systems than non-vegetarians do. Natural killer cell activity is important in scavenging for cancerous and precancerous cells. This activity is found to a greater degree in vegetarians.

Overall, the cancer-fighting capacity is more elevated in people who eat a balanced vegetarian diet and is a good, healthy eating option for just about any one.


Harvard Medical School

Mayo Clinic

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