A new research from Texas A&M University and the University of North Carolina claims that a diet comprising of dried plums could positively influence gut bacteria (microbiota) throughout the colon, thus reducing the risk of colon cancer. The researchers demonstrated how dried plums promoted the retention of beneficial bacteria in the colon and significantly reduced the likelihood of colon cancer.

Colon Cancer And Gut Bacteria

The American Cancer Society states colon cancer to be the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, considering men and women separately. When considering both genders together, it is the second leading cause of death from cancer. In 2015, approximately 49,700 deaths are expected from colon cancer nationwide.

Considerable research has already established that dietary modifications can alter the metabolism and composition of colon bacteria. As explained by Dr. Nancy Turner, AgriLife Research Professor in the Nutrition and Food Science Department of Texas A&M University, College Station, these alterations in colon microbiota has significant implications for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer. Trillions of intestinal bacteria and over 400 distinct species have been identified. Previous research explains how disruptions in the populations of these bacteria initiate recurrent intestinal inflammation and promotes colon cancer.

“Our research looked into the possible cancer-protective properties of dried plums. Experiments were conducted using a well-established rat model of colon cancer. Dried plums are known to contain phenolic compounds which have numerous effects on health, including their antioxidant properties that neutralize the toxic and dangerous effects of free radicals that might damage our DNA”.

Testing The Hypothesis

The scientists hypothesized that consuming dried plums would promote the growth and metabolism of populations of beneficial gut bacteria. If this was observed then they might be a helpful dietary prevention against colon cancer.

Derek Seidel, a doctoral graduate student and research assistant for Turner, explained how the study worked:

“The specialized rats were fed either a control diet, or one containing dried plums. Both the diets were matched for macronutrient composition and total calories in order to focus solely on the effects attributed to compounds significantly present in the dried plums”.

Following this, tissues from different regions of the colon and the intestinal contents of the rats were examined.

The Results Speak For Themselves

Results showed that those fed dried plums had increased populations of Bacteroidetes and decreased quantities of Firmicutes – the two main types of gut bacteria. These alterations were observed in the distal colon only; the proximal colon remained unaffected.

In contrast, rats fed the control diet had decreased quantities of Bacteroidetes and increased populations of Firmicutes in their distal colon.

Moreover, researchers saw that the rats consuming dried plums had significantly lower numbers of aberrant crypts, aberrant crypt foci and high-multiplicity aberrant crypt foci. The latter are among the earliest observable pre-cancerous lesions and are considered as potential indicators of cancer development.

Future Prospects

“The results we obtained conclusively state that dried plums appear to promote retention of beneficial gut bacteria and microbial metabolism throughout the colon, which is significantly associated with a decreased incidence of precancerous lesions and the development of colon cancer”, concluded Turner.

Even though additional research is required to further validate the findings, especially human trials, these results are nevertheless exciting – a regime where daily consumption of dried plums could considerably lower the chances of colon cancer is interesting indeed.