Mechanisms linking diet and colorectal cancer: the possible role of insulin resistance

Nutr Cancer. 2000;37(1):19-26. doi: 10.1207/S15327914NC3701_2.


Diet is clearly implicated in the origin of colorectal cancer, with risk factors for the disease including reduced consumption of vegetables, fiber, and starch and increased consumption of red meat and animal fat. Several hypotheses have been developed to explain these associations. Most recently, McKeown-Eyssen and Giovannucci noted the similarity of the risk factors for colorectal cancer and those for insulin resistance and suggested that insulin resistance leads to colorectal cancer through the growth-promoting effect of elevated levels of insulin, glucose, or triglycerides. We briefly review the evidence from observational, epidemiological, and experimental animal studies linking diet with insulin resistance and colorectal cancer. The evidence suggests that diets high in energy and saturated fat and with high glycemic index carbohydrate and low levels of fiber and n-3 fatty acids lead to insulin resistance with hyperinsulinemia, hyperglycemia, and hypertriglyceridemia. We then consider how insulin, the related insulin-like growth factors, triglycerides, and nonesterified fatty acids could lead to increased growth of colon cancer precursor lesions and the development of colorectal cancer. Finally, we consider the implications of this scheme on possible future research directions, including studies of satiety and clinical tests of the importance of insulin resistance in the colon carcinogenesis process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / physiopathology
  • Hyperinsulinism / physiopathology
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / physiopathology
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology*
  • Risk Factors