Grain of truth: Higher whole grain intake lowers risk of digestive tract cancers


Digestive tract cancer is a collective term used to describe cancers such as colorectal, gastric and oesophageal, which are ranked among the top 10 cancers globally in terms of incidence and mortality. Lifestyle and diet have been known to play an important role in lowering its risk.

Previously, a review focusing mainly on case-control studies showed that higher whole grain intake was associated with lower risk of digestive tract cancers, however researchers said there was limited and controversial data when it came to cohort studies.

Hence, in this meta-analysis, researchers from Zhengzhou University, Henan, China compiled cohort and case studies to give a better understanding of this association.

They published the findings in BMC Nutrition​ journal.


This meta-analysis included 35 studies (18 on colorectal cancer, 11 on gastric cancer and 6 on oesophagus cancer), comprising 2.6m participants and 28,921 cases.

Of the 35 studies, 14 were cohort and 22 were case-control studies.

Studies were conducted across North America, South America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, between 1989 to 2016.


Comparing the highest-intake participants with the lowest-intake participants for whole grains, overall digestive tract cancers can be significantly reduced by 22% (p<0.001).

In this analysis, whole grain consumption can also significantly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 11% (p<0.001), and oesophagus cancer by 47% (p<0.001).

For gastric cancer, the result showed that whole grains consumption reduced the risk of gastric cancer by 36% (p<0.001).


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