You probably already know that I think fish oil is a great supplement. I talk a lot about it because it’s a wonderful anti-inflammatory and has many other benefits. With that said, I still think it’s a good idea to include fish in your diet. And a new study agrees with me.
In this study, the researchers linked a diet high in fish to a decrease in risk of bowel cancers. These include colon, large bowel, and rectum cancers.
To do this, the researchers examined the dietary patterns of over 70,000 North American Seventh-Day Adventists for seven years. The participants were all over the age of 25, had no previous history of any form of cancer, and the researchers were able to link them with state cancer registries. Their average age was in the late 50s. The researchers administered a questionnaire about the participants' dietary habits, and then broke them down into five groups. Note that the researchers' definitions vary a bit from what we typically use. Here’s what they came up with:
Group 1 – Vegan: The participants ate eggs, dairy, fish, and meat less than once a month.
Group 2 – Lacto-ovo vegetarian: The participants ate eggs and dairy regularly, but ate meat less than once a month.
Group 3 – Pescovegetarian: The participants ate fish at least once a month, but ate all other meats less than once a month.
Group 4 – Semi-Vegetarian: The participants ate fish and meat at least once a month, but less than once a week.
Group 5 – Non-Vegetarian: The participants ate fish or meat more than once a week.
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The researchers followed up with the participants for an average of 7.3 years, sending them two-yearly questionnaires and cross-checking the participants with state cancer registries. They identified a total of 490 bowel cancer cases. When they compared the vegetarian groups to the non-vegetarian groups, they found that the vegetarians had a much lower risk of bowel cancer than the non-vegetarians. That wasn’t too surprising. There’s a lot of research linking meat to bowel cancer.
What was surprising was what they found when they looked at the four vegetarian groups individually. The only group with a significantly reduced risk of bowel cancer was the pescovegetarians. The researchers, who published their findings in JAMA Internal Medicine, noted: "Vegetarian diets are associated with an overall lower incidence of colorectal cancers. Pescovegetarians in particular have a much lower risk (43% lower – vegans were only 17% lower) compared with non-vegetarians. If such associations are causal, they may be important for primary prevention of colorectal cancers."
I suspect the reason that the pescovegetarians fared better than the other groups is that the fish provided anti-inflammatory benefits. Red meat, in contrast, can be inflammatory, unless it is completely grass fed. This is probably why the vegetarian group as a whole fared better than the non-vegetarians. If you do eat meat regularly, consider replacing it with fish. And make sure you’re getting plenty of vegetables too. They made up the bulk of many participants’ diets, and all that fiber likely had a beneficial effect on their results as well.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD