Deadly diet combo theory behind colon cancer rise in young people (2024)

Researchers may be one step closer to unravelling the cause of a colon cancer crisis in relatively young people.

They've found that a combination of eating too much sugar and not enough fibre causes the gut to produce a bacteria that speeds up the aging of people's cells.

This makes them more susceptibleto mutations and damage that leads to cancer and less likely to be able to fight off the growth of tumour cells,according to new researchpresented at the world's largest cancer conference this weekend.

Meanwhile, a separate study revealed at the conference theorises that energy drinks could be partly fuelling the colorectal cancer epidemic in under-50s.

The researchers behind that trial believe that an ingredient called taurine feeds and promotes the growth harmful gut bacteria linked to the disease.

The above graph shows the rise of colorectal cancer in young Americans from 1999 through 2020

Evan White is pictured above with his fiancée Katie Briggs and their dog Lola. The pair had started dating when Evan had cancer and got engaged when his condition stabilised. However, he passed away after four years fighting the disease

Marisa Maddox (pictured) was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 29. It has made her infertile, robbing her of the chance to have the large family she always wanted

The new findings come as colorectal cancer rates among Americans under 50 are expected to double from 2010 to the end of the decade.

Doctors trying to work out what's behind the rapid rise have suspected for some time that modern diets are to blame in some way.

Researchers presentingat the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago this week believe they have moved one step closer to understanding how the food we consume plays a role.

In an abstract of the new paper, which has not been published yet, the team from Ohio State University looked at genetic samples of young - under age 50 - and older people with colon cancer.

Joe Faratzis, 34, from Los Angeles, is pictured above in his twenties before his stage-four colon cancer was detected (left) and during treatment which began in 2020 (right)

How common is colon cancer in Australia?

* There were an estimated 15,367 new cases in 2023

* The estimated number of deaths in 2023 was 5,307

* Colon cancer was responsible or 10 per cent of cancer-related deaths in 2023

* It is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia now and the second most deadly, only to lung cancer

*In 2023, around six per cent of colorectal cancers were estimated to be diagnosed in people aged under 40. In 2000, only aroundtwo per cent of colorectal cancers were diagnosed in people aged under 40

* The increasing proportion occurred because, while colorectal cancer is decreasing overall and for older populations, colorectal cancer incidence is increasing for the young

* However, cancer survival rates are higher for younger populations than older.In 2015–2019, survival was 98 per cent for 0–19 year olds, between 70–80 per cent for age groups 20–39, 40–59 and 60–79 years old, and then 61 per cent for 80 years and older

Source: Australian Government

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They found that younger patients who had dietslow in fibre and high in sugar produce a bacteria called Fusobacterium, which increases inflammation throughout the gut by binding to pro-inflammatory proteins.

Fibre, in contrast, slows the release of glucose in the blood (blood sugar) and feeds healthy gut bacteria that lower inflammation.

Sustained inflammation has been shown to age cells, and the researchers estimated that regular poor diets in young colorectal cancer patients aged their cells by up to 15 years older than a person's biological age.

This is a phenomenon called 'inflammaging.'

Older cells are more vulnerable to cancer because they are more damaged and more likely to gain mutations that make them susceptible to disease.

Meanwhile, older patients with colon cancer had cells on par with their actual ages.

Read MoreEXCLUSIVE I was fit and healthy and about to turn 33 when I was diagnosed with an 'old person's cancer' despite no family history. This is my message to all young Australians

The researchers estimated that while 20 percent of young-onset colorectal cancers are inherited from parents, the rest of cases 'remain poorly understood'.

'These data suggest that pathogenic microbes may induce inflammation, which leads to accelerated aging in [early-onset colorectal cancer],' the researchers wrote.

The team noted that the findings align with other recent data, suggesting that low-fibre, processed diets throw off the gut microbiome balance in a process called intestinal dysbiosis.

The findings come 95 percent of Americans don't get enough fibre, according to the USDA.

The agency recommends that adults get between 25 and 30 grams of fibre every day, which is roughly the equivalent of two to three bowls of oats or one cup of chickpeas.

However, most Americans consume only about 10 to 15 grams of fibre a day.

Additionally, researchers at the University of Florida introduced a trial this weekend which will aim to evaluate the effect of energy drinks on young colorectal cancer patients.

Read More Two wonder drugs that 'melt away' colon cancers in up to 100 PERCENT of patients could help halt epidemic in young people

The team is recruiting 60 colorectal cancer patients ages 18 to 40 with no family history of the disease to see if taurine, an ingredient in energy drinks like Red Bull, feeds H2S-metabolising bacteria, which has been linked to increased incidences of colorectal cancer.

'These bacteria preferentially use taurine, an essential amino acid, as a primary energy source. Energy drinks represent one of the largest dietary sources (6-16x normal daily intake) of taurine in contemporary diet,' the team wrote.

'Our hypothesis is that high taurine levels in energy drinks could exacerbate CRC risk by promoting preferential growth and metabolic activities of already present H2S-producing bacteria, contributing to the rise of [early-onset] CRC.'

As of March 2024, 32 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 consume energy drinks regularly, and energy drinks are the second-most popular 'dietary supplement' among adults in that age group behind multivitamins.

Deadly diet combo theory behind colon cancer rise in young people (2024)


Deadly diet combo theory behind colon cancer rise in young people? ›

Researchers may be one step closer to unravelling the cause of a colon cancer crisis in relatively young people. They've found that a combination of eating too much sugar and not enough fibre causes the gut to produce a bacteria that speeds up the aging of people's cells.

Why are colon cancer rates rising in young people? ›

Experts aren't sure why there's an increase in young adults getting colon and rectal cancer. Researchers are exploring factors such as diet, obesity, lack of exercise, tobacco and alcohol use as well as environmental impacts such as exposure to chemicals. Family history also plays a role.

What is the link between diet and colon cancer? ›

Researchers have identified the main food substances that cause inflammation in the body and may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer: Sugar, animal fats, and red and processed meats.

Why are Millennials at higher risk for colon cancer? ›

However, doctors believe several lifestyle factors are linked to the disease. These include sedentary behavior, being overweight or obese, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and a poor diet. Additionally, individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps face a higher risk of developing the disease.

Does lifestyle contribute to colon cancer? ›

Your lifestyle, diet, health conditions and family history can all play a role. While you can't change your genetics, it may be possible to lower your risk for developing colon cancer and rectal cancer by addressing the things you can change, such as losing weight or quitting smoking.

What is the new cause of colon cancer? ›

A type of bacteria that causes dental plaque may be behind a treatment-resistant form of colorectal cancer, a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature found. The particular bacterium, which appears to shield tumor cells from cancer-fighting drugs, was found in 50% of the tumors tested in the study.

What were your first signs of colon cancer? ›

Symptoms of colon cancer can include:
  • A change in bowel habits, such as more frequent diarrhea or constipation.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
  • Ongoing discomfort in the belly area, such as cramps, gas or pain.
  • A feeling that the bowel doesn't empty all the way during a bowel movement.
  • Weakness or tiredness.
Jul 27, 2023

What popular food is linked to colon cancer? ›

Red and processed meats.

Both red meat and processed meat contain compounds that increase the risk of colon cancer.

Are eggs linked to colon cancer? ›

This testing started in the 80s, and, by the 1990s, 15 studies had been published, of which 10 suggested “a direct association” between egg consumption and colorectal cancer, “whereas five found no association.” By 2014, dozens more studies had been published, confirming that eggs may indeed be playing a role in the ...

Does sugar cause colon polyps? ›

But the sugar caused the polyps to grow much larger. “The 12 ounce sugary drink did not cause insulin resistance, did not cause obesity, and yet the polyps still grow.” Cantley's research finds it is the combination of glucose and fructose, usually found in sugary drinks, that efficiently feeds the polyp.

What is the biggest risk factor for colon cancer? ›

Risk factors you can change
  • Being overweight or obese. If you are overweight or obese (very overweight), your risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer is higher. ...
  • Diabetes mellitus, Type 2. ...
  • Certain types of diets. ...
  • Smoking. ...
  • Alcohol use. ...
  • Your age. ...
  • Your racial and ethnic background. ...
  • Your sex at birth.
Jan 29, 2024

Can colon cancer develop in 3 years? ›

Colon cancer, or cancer that begins in the lower part of the digestive tract, usually forms from a collection of benign (noncancerous) cells called an adenomatous polyp. Most of these polyps will not become malignant (cancerous), but some can slowly turn into cancer over the course of about 10-15 years.

Why is colon cancer so common in the US? ›

Sedentary lifestyle, overweight and obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, low-fiber, high-fat diets or diets high in processed meats, and other environmental factors have all been associated with the disease.

What is the root cause of colon cancer? ›

Overall, about 90% of colorectal cancers are caused by environmental exposures, such as a low-fiber and high-fat diet, alcohol consumption, and tobacco use, which occurred decades before a patient was diagnosed. Researchers recently linked dietary metabolites to a protective or procarcinogenic environment in the colon.

Why does inactivity cause colon cancer? ›

It has been proposed that the risk associated with a sedentary lifestyle could be explained by hyperinsulinism or insulin resistance, which might stimulate the growth of colonic cancer cells (McKeown-Eyssen, 1994; Giovannucci, 1995).

What diet is a major risk factor for colon cancer? ›

Strong research suggests that eating sugary snacks can increase your risk of colorectal cancer. After examining the diets of 2,063 patients with colorectal cancer and 2,776 healthy patients, scientists confirmed that soft drinks, cakes, cookies, and chips were all associated with a higher chance of developing cancer.

Why is colon cancer so common in people? ›

Several lifestyle factors contribute to the development of colorectal cancer such as a high intake of processed meats and low intake of fruits and vegetables, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.

What causes early onset colon cancer? ›

A family history of CRC-inherited genetic mutations, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and certain dietary habits are all common risk factors for CRC [2-4].

How common are colon polyps in 20 year olds? ›

Polyps are very common in adults, who have an increased chance of acquiring them, especially as we get older. While quite rare in 20-year-olds, it's estimated that the average 60-year-old without special risk factors for polyps has a 25 percent chance of having a polyp.

What causes colon polyps in young adults? ›

Changes in genes (called mutations) cause most colon polyps. Doctors don't know exactly why these changes happen. Anyone can get colon polyps, but certain things make you more likely to have them, including if you: Have a family history of colon polyps.

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