Phytochemically rich dietary components and the risk of colorectal cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies

World J Clin Oncol. 2021 Jun 24;12(6):482-499. doi: 10.5306/wjco.v12.i6.482.


Background: Personalized nutrition and protective diets and lifestyles represent a key cancer research priority. The association between consumption of specific dietary components and colorectal cancer (CRC) incidence has been evaluated by a number of population-based studies, which have identified certain food items as having protective potential, though the findings have been inconsistent. Herein we present a systematic review and meta-analysis on the potential protective role of five common phytochemically rich dietary components (nuts, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, garlic and tomatoes) in reducing CRC risk.

Aim: To investigate the independent impact of increased intake of specific dietary constituents on CRC risk in the general population.

Methods: Medline and Embase were systematically searched, from time of database inception to January 31, 2020, for observational studies reporting CRC incidence relative to intake of one or more of nuts, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, garlic and/or tomatoes in the general population. Data were extracted by two independent reviewers and analyzed in accordance with the Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) and Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (PRISMA) reporting guidelines and according to predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria. Effect sizes of studies were pooled using a random-effects model.

Results: Forty-six studies were identified. CRC risk was significantly reduced in patients with higher vs lower consumption of cruciferous vegetables [odds ratio (OR) = 0.90; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.85-0.95; P < 0.005], citrus fruits (OR = 0.90; 95%CI: 0.84-0.96; P < 0.005), garlic (OR = 0.83; 95%CI: 0.76-0.91; P < 0.005) and tomatoes (OR = 0.89; 95%CI: 0.84-0.95; P < 0.005). Subgroup analysis showed that this association sustained when looking at case-control studies alone, for all of these four food items, but no significant difference was found in analysis of cohort studies alone. Nut consumption exhibited a similar trend, but overall results were not significant (OR = 0.72; 95%CI: 0.50-1.03; P < 0.07; I 2 = 90.70%). Putative anticarcinogenic mechanisms are proposed using gene-set enrichment analysis of gene/protein perturbations caused by active compounds within each food item.

Conclusion: Increased cruciferous vegetable, garlic, citrus fruit and tomato consumption are all inversely associated with CRC risk. These findings highlight the potential for developing precision nutrition strategies for CRC prevention.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Diet; Disease prevention; Meta-analysis; Nutrigenomics; Risk.