Patients with colon cancer who regularly consumed tree nuts had a 46% improvement in disease-free survival.
Many studies have explored the link between food consumption and the risk of cancer. Certain types of foods—especially those with antioxidants—have been found to protect against cancer, while others have been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer.
A new study published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests that consuming nuts may help patients survive colon cancer. The research showed that patients with stage 3 colon cancer who regularly consumed nuts had a lower risk of disease recurrence and mortality compared with patients who do not consume nuts.
Included in the study were 826 patients with colon cancer who were followed for a median of 6.5 years after treatment with surgery and chemotherapy.
The authors discovered that patients who regularly consumed two 1-ounce servings of nuts had a 42% improvement in disease-free survival and a 57% increase in overall survival, according to the study.
“Further analysis of this cohort revealed that disease-free survival increased by 46% among the subgroup of nut consumers who ate tree nuts rather than peanuts,” said senior author Charles S. Fuchs, MD.
The authors characterized tree nuts as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans, while peanuts are considered legumes.
“These findings are in keeping with several other observational studies that indicate that a slew of healthy behaviors—including increased physical activity, keeping a healthy weight, and lower intake of sugar and sweetened beverages—improve colon cancer outcomes,” said lead author Temidayo Fadelu, MD. “The results highlight the importance of emphasizing dietary and lifestyle factors in colon cancer survivorship.”
The researchers said this finding was significant because it uncovers a relationship between biological processes and worsened disease outcomes for colon cancer and chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes (T2D).
Previous studies suggest that nuts may help reduce insulin resistance, which is often a precursor to T2D.
The authors also noted that other studies indicate that patients with colon cancer whose lifestyle factors increase insulin resistance have poor outcomes.
“These studies support the hypothesis that behaviors that make you less insulin-resistant, including eating nuts, seem to improve outcomes in colon cancer,” Dr Fuchs said. “However, we don’t know yet what exactly about nuts is beneficial.”
The authors hypothesized that nuts may reduce hunger without consumption of carbohydrate-rich food or types that are linked to poor outcomes; however, patients may not be eating nuts due to concerns over fat content, according to the study.
“People ask me if increasing nut consumption will lead to obesity, which leads to worse outcomes,” Dr Fuchs said. “But what’s really interesting is that in our studies, and across the scientific literature in general, regular consumers of nuts tend to be leaner.”
These results suggest that diet can make a difference in colon cancer outcomes, according to the study. The authors previously found that coffee consumption also reduced recurrence and mortality among this patient population, highlighting an additional way to potentially improve outcomes for these patients.
“First and foremost, I talk about avoiding obesity, exercising regularly, and staying away from a high-carbohydrate diet. Then we talk about things like coffee and nuts. If you like coffee or nuts, enjoy them, and if you don’t, there are many other helpful steps you can take,” Dr Fuchs said. “Overall, we are working to apply the same rigorous science to the understanding of diet and lifestyles in the colon cancer patient population that we apply to defining new drugs.”