The Deadly Diet Combo Believed to be Behind Rise of Colon Cancer in Young People

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Jun 29, 2024

With the rise of colon cancer in people under 55 years old, researchers are looking for the main cause behind this phenomenon.

Now, a new study reveals the cause of the colon cancer crisis: a diet high in sugar and low in fiber.

Younger People Are In Danger

Researchers presenting at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meet in Chicago to discuss how the food we consume plays a role in modern diseases.

A man and a woman who are both wearing glasses and surgical masks stand together for a photo

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While colon cancer has decreased overall land for the older populations, younger people are seeing an increase in the disease

The Increasing Risk

The rates of colorectal cancer in people under 50 have been increasing since the 1990s, according to Dr. Michael Cecchini, a co-director of the colorectal program at the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers and medical oncologist at Yale Cancer Center (via HuffPost).

A sick man sitting on a bed with his head in his hand.

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Experts “think it’s something lifestyle and environmental, but exactly what that is, we don’t know,” Cecchini said.

Looking Into the Problem

This information comes from a new study presented at the world’s largest cancer conference this weekend, along with a separate study that theorizes energy drinks could be partly fueling the colorectal cancer epidemic among those under 50.

Several researchers are pictured working on a study in their lab

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The research behind that trial suggests that an ingredient called taurine feeds and prompts the growth of harmful gut bacteria linked to the disease.

The Absence of Good Gut Bacteria 

According to the Daily Mail, researchers found that younger adults who are being diagnosed with colon cancer are overeating sugars and not consuming enough fiber, which means the bacteria needed to improve gut health isn’t present.

Three women in their 20s laugh as they eat fast food

Source: iStock

The lack of this bacteria is speeding up the aging of people’s cells, creating higher cancer risks.

No Opponent to Fight

Because of the lack of bacteria, these people are more susceptible to mutations and damage that lead to cancer.

sick woman with stomach ache sitting on couch

Source: diana.grytsku, Freepik

Unfortunately, this means that these people are also less likely to fight off the growth of tumor cells.


The Possible Cause Behind Colon Cancer

Doctors and researchers are trying to find out the cause behind this rapid rise in colon cancer, with many speculating that modern diets are to blame in some way.

A man receives an injection through a port in his chest while sitting in a doctors chair and wearing a blue gown. One doctor gives the injection while the other loos on.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

From sugars to specific ingredients found in energy-promoting drinks, diets these days seem to be doing more harm than good.


Introducing Fusobacterium

The team from Ohio State University, in an abstract of their unpublished paper, examined genetic samples of young and older people with colon cancer.

Two researchers are pictured as they go over notes in the lab

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The researchers found that younger patients who had diets low in fiber and high in sugar produced a bacteria called Fusobacterium.


How Fusobacterium Works

Fusobacterium is a bacteria that increases inflammation throughout the gut by binding to pro-inflammatory proteins.

A very sick man is pictured sleeping on a hospital bed

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While fiber helps slow the release of glucose in the blood and feeds healthy gut bacteria that lower inflammation, the lack of this in the gut seems to encourage Fusobacterium to thrive.


Poor Diets Age Cells 

Sustained inflammation has shown to age cells, leading researchers to estimate that regular poor diets in young colon cancer patients aged their cells by 15 years beyond a person’s biological age.

In the foreground, a close-up of a fast food meal on a red tray, including a burger in a wrapper and a pile of fries

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Researchers have dubbed this aging process “inflammaging,” which increases older cells’ vulnerability to cancer.


The Vulnerable Cells

Older cells are more vulnerable to cancer because they are more damaged and more likely to gain mutations that make them susceptible to disease. While older colon cancer patients had cells appropriate for their age, the younger colon cancer patients are causing great concern about our food culture.

A family sits at a large wooden table to enjoy a family-style dinner

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“These data suggest that pathogenic microbes may induce inflammation, which leads to accelerated aging in [early-onset colorectal cancer],” the researchers wrote.


The Deadly Duo

Low-fiber, processed diets seem to throw off the gut microbiome balance in a process called intestinal dysbiosis. The growing concern comes from the fact that 95% of Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets, according to the USDA.

A female patient lying in a hospital bed next to a doctor with a clipboard.

Source: Freepik

On top of that, the bacteria are using taurine, an essential amino acid, as an energy source to accelerate the growth of cancer cells.