Research led by cancer specialists at Imperial College London and published in the journal Nature Communications has found that a high fibre diet can dramatically reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

The researchers recruited 20 Americans from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and gave them a meal plan based on a ‘traditional’ African diet high in fibre and low in fat that largely comprised corn-based products, vegetables, fruit and pulses. Meanwhile, 20 volunteers living in rural South Africa were given a typical Western diet, with plenty of red meat but very few fruit and vegetables or other sources of fibre, reports The Independent.

Bowel cancer, also known as colon cancer or rectal cancer, is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in the UK and has poor survival rates. Considered to be a ‘westernised disease’, it kills more than 600,000 people worldwide every year – mostly in western countries, with incidence much lower in both Africa and the Far East.

All participants in the study had colonoscopy examinations before and after the diet change to look for inflammation and polyps. These are abnormal growths in the lining of the bowel that can be an indicator of cancer risk.

At the start of the study, nearly half of the Americans and none of the South Africans had polyps. After two weeks, the American group was found to have significantly reduced inflammation in the colon while measurements indicating cancer risk dramatically increased in the South Africans.

Commenting on this research, Lucie Prothero, a senior associate at Penningtons Manches who specialises in delayed diagnosis of cancer claims, said: “This research strengthens the existing advice that a high fibre diet can help to prevent bowel cancer. It also demonstrates that, as well as being alert to symptoms to ensure early diagnosis, it is important to improve awareness and education of the impact of diet on the risk of bowel cancer.

“This month we have been supporting the Bowel Cancer Awareness campaign, which stresses the importance of early diagnosis and awareness of bowel cancer symptoms. Sadly, the team at Penningtons Manches handles many cases of delayed diagnosis of bowel cancer and we often see the devastating consequences on sufferers and their families. We wholeheartedly support the campaign to raise awareness of symptoms and the continuing scientific research into the disease. Hopefully, this will help to reduce the incidence of the disease and to ensure early diagnosis and a better prospect of curative treatment.”