Men who eat healthy plant-based diets are around 20 per cent less likely to get bowel cancer, a new study of around 170,000 adults has found.
The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, builds on a growing bank of evidence of the link between plant-based eating and healthy guts, and has been endorsed by leading doctors in the area.
Analysing results from 79,952 men and 93,475 women over almost 20 years, researchers found a strong link between men eating healthy plant-based diets and lower risk of bowel cancer. There was no reduction in bowel cancer in men eating unhealthy plant-based diets.
Researchers did not find a similar link for women, which authors speculated to be because women often have a healthier baseline diet than men. Plant-based or vegan diets are more common among women, which has been linked to meat’s traditional association with masculinity.
Dr Richard Robinson, consultant gastroenterologist with an interest in bowel cancer, told Wicked Leeks he endorses the study as an accumulation of evidence in the area. “Dietary factors have long been known to be important risk factors and this research adds to that evidence: a large prospective study showing that a plant-based diet rich in vegetables can reduce the risk in bowel cancer by a fifth.
“Promotion of a healthy vegetarian diet plus increased awareness of early symptoms and effective screening are needed to improve the outcome of bowel cancer in the UK.”
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, and one in 15 adults are likely to develop it, he added.
The research adds evidence to the link between plant-based diets and human health, alongside growing acceptance that eating less meat reduces the impact of diets on the planet.
Head of sustainability at organic veg box company Riverford, Zac Goodall, said: “While livestock, in the best managed examples, can be used to maintain grassland diversity, improve soil health or provide fertility to organic farming systems, animal agriculture is responsible for the lions-share of negative environmental impacts in our food system.”
Greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice that of plant based (with animal agriculture representing 57 per cent of all food production-related GHG emissions), and livestock agriculture is a leading cause of global biodiversity loss and deforestation, with one study calculating that if we swapped 20 per cent of beef for a meat substitute we could halve deforestation rates.