Increased Waist : Increased Colon Cancer Risk

pre diabetes diet metabolic syndrome management reduces obesity colon cancerIt’s a familiar theme at Nutrientology, and once again research correlates abdominal fat and disease. A recently published study in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that older adults who have a large waist size appear to have a higher risk of developing colon cancer than their thinner peers. This study adds more evidence for obesity as a risk factor for colon cancer. I have previously posted on the correlation between diabetes and colon cancer, so if you are overweight, and you have diabetes or even prediabetes metabolic syndrome, you need to pay attention to these statistics.

The study included 120,852 adults 55 to 69 years of age who were followed for 16 years. During that time 1.9% developed colorectal cancer. 2 people out of 100 isn’t a tremendously high incidence, but if you’re one of the two, favorable statistics won’t matter.

The risk for colon cancer was 25% higher for men who were significantly overweight or obese at the outset, and waist size seemed to matter most: Men with the largest bellies had a 63% greater risk of colorectal cancer than men who were trimmest around the midsection.

The findings were not as straightforward among women. A large waistline was only linked to a higher cancer risk in women who also got little exercise (less than 30 minutes per day). This suggests that exercise could be an important part of reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer among women even in the presence of increased waist size.  Women who topped a size 16 and got little exercise were 83% more likely to develop colon cancer than women who had smaller waistlines and exercised more than 90 minutes per day.

I have posted on a number of occasions on the metabolic impact of the abdominal-visceral fat mass, and that it is not simply an inert fatty accumulation, but in many ways it acts like an endocrine organ. Abdominal visceral fat plays an adverse role in diabetes and prediabetes metabolic synbdrome and their accompanying problems of hypertension, lipid-cholesterol problems, and cardiovascular disease. This fat mass participates in the creation of chronic low-level inflammation that wreaks havoc on the body from the cellular level, to the organ level, and the system level.

The study results indicate that in women, abdominal fat is associated with colorectal cancer only when combined with low exercise levels.  I wonder if women generally have more leeway with regard to increased body weight and disease?  Perhaps from an evolutionary perspective, women are given some evolutionary leeway with regard to fat and disease. They do not tend to carry fat in their abdominal area, and extra fat energy stores can be useful in the face of pregnancy and its resultant advancement of the species.  Nature wants women “softer” than men. This can also make it potentially more difficult for women to lose weight.

Perhaps nature historically compelled men to stay more physically lean or pay the price? An unfit fat male is not a good hunter-gatherer-provider.

Additional risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • older age (it’s usually diagnosed after age 50) 
  • a history of colitis or Crohn’s disease (inflammatory disorders of the colon) 
  • a family history of the cancer, and smoking
  • some studies have also linked low fiber diet


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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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