You've probably heard quite a bit lately about the importance of your gut health. Research in this area is exploding, and for good reason. The more we learn about gut bacteria, the more links we find between these microscopic creatures and every other facet of our health. So it's not surprising that one of those links is close to home for the gut. A healthy gut can lead to a healthy colon, reducing the risk of colon cancer.
So how do you get a healthy gut? There are a number of steps you can and should take, from consuming probiotic-rich foods to getting plenty of fiber. But if lowering your colon-cancer risk is your main concern, you may need to make only one simple change to your diet. At least, that's what evidence from a study conducted at UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine points to.
For this study, researchers fed mice chow that they formulated to match the profile of the typical American diet. However, some of the mice received a special fortification, while the others didn't. Other than that, their diets were identical.
The researchers found that the fortified mice developed fewer colon cancers. The male mice in particular experienced the greatest benefits, with 2.3 times fewer tumors than their non-fortified counterparts. So what was this powerful fortification? It wasn't a top-secret nutrient blend or an extreme vitamin dose.
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The mice that were much more successful at evading colon cancer simply got 7 to 10.5% of their daily calories from walnuts. In humans, that amounts to about an ounce a day. Walnuts are loaded with polyunsaturated fatty acids, have a high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, and are full of vitamin E. Other studies have found them to be beneficial in preventing not just colon cancer but heart disease, diabetes, and neurological disorders.
The researchers analyzed the mice's gut bacteria and found that the walnuts seemed to make the microbiome more cancer-protective, promoting the proliferation of fiber-digesting bacteria that create anti-inflammatory compounds. The male mice in particular benefitted from the diversity that the walnuts brought to their guts, since male mice seem to have less-diverse gut bacteria than females.
As with most animal studies, these results need to be replicated in humans before scientists can issue definitive recommendations about eating walnuts to prevent cancer. But that isn't stopping the study's principal investigator, Dr. Daniel Rosenberg. He says, "I try to eat walnuts every day." I think that's a great idea. We know that walnuts are nutritional powerhouses. Just keep in mind that they are high in calories, so be careful not to overdo it. There are about 14 walnut halves and 190 calories in an ounce, which is all you need for the day to imitate the mice's regimen.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD