Modification of Experimental Colon Carcinogenesis by Dietary Fibers

  • Lucien R. Jacobs


The literature concerning the effect of individual dietary fibers on the experimental induction of colorectal cancer was reviewed. It has become increasingly apparent that the effect of dietary fibers on colon carcinogenesis depends on many factors, including the type and amount of fiber; the other dietary components, particularly fat; animal species, strain, and sex; and the type of carcinogen and its dose and route of administration. Despite such variations in design, most experiments with wheat bran and cellulose have shown evidence of a significant protective effect. In contrast, numerous other fiber supplements have been shown to enhance tumor development. These include pectin, corn bran, undegraded carageenan, agar, Metamucil, and alfalfa. Possible mechanisms by which fibers may inhibit colon tumorigenesis include dilution and adsorption of any carcinogens or promoters contained within the intestinal lumen and faster transit time and therefore less opportunity for carcinogen/promoter interaction with the intestinal epithelium. Modulation of colonic microbial metabolic activity by dietary fibers may also be important in the activation and detoxification of carcinogens and promoters. Dietary fibers produce structural and functional changes in the intestinal epithelium and modify rates of cell proliferation and migration. Evidence suggests that if this stimulus to cell proliferation occurs during the stage of initiation, it may lead to enhancement of the carcinogenic process. Dietary fibers bind not only carcinogens, bile acids, and other potentially toxic agents but also essential nutrients that themselves can modify the carcinogenic process. Fermentation of fibers within the large bowel results in production of volatile fatty acids, which in vitro have been shown to be antineoplastic. Fermentation also produces a lower luminal pH, which in turn affects colonic microbial populations and their metabolic activities. The presence of lignans in higher plants and their bacterial synthesis from precursors present in fiber-rich foods provide an additional source of antineoplastic agents, whose relative importance in colon carcinogenesis is unknown. Because dietary fibers differ in their physiochemical properties, it has been difficult to identify a single mechanism by which fibers prevent or inhibit colon carcinogenesis. Clearly, more investigation is needed regarding the mechanism(s) by which certain fibers inhibit while others enhance experimental colon carcinogenesis.


Bile Acid Dietary Fiber Wheat Bran Volatile Fatty Acid High Fiber Diet 
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1,2-dimethylhydrazine dihydrochloride




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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucien R. Jacobs
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, School of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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