Consumption of an African diet for only two weeks may reduce the risk of colon cancer, according to a University of Pittsburgh study published in Nature Communications.
Researchers selected 20 African Americans in Pittsburgh and 20 rural South Africans to switch diets for two weeks. The Americans ate an African diet high in fiber and low in fat with plenty of fruits and vegetables and little meat. The Africans consumed the average Western diet – a diet rich in fat and dairy.
After the study concluded, the researchers performed colonoscopies on the participants. The researchers discovered that the African Americans who consumed the traditional African diet had reduced inflammation in the colon and increased production of butyrate, a fatty acid that may protect against colon cancer.
“If you can increase the amount of (butyrate), you can override the carcinogenic effects of fat and meat,” said lead author Dr. Stephen J.D. O’Keefe, a physician in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
In contrast, the Africans who ate the Western diet showed changes in gut bacteria that raises the risk of colon cancer.
“Our best hope is that it will open eyes to other possibilities, and point to the fact that a high-fiber diet is not difficult to follow and is well tolerated,” O’Keefe said.
Colon cancer is diagnosed in 150,000 Americans annually; African Americans are disproportionately affected. The disparity is particularly acute when compared to Blacks on the continent—65 per 100,000 Black Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer versus 5 per 100,000 Africans.