Protective mechanisms of dietary fibers in nutritional carcinogenesis

Basic Life Sci. 1993;61:45-63. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-2984-2_4.


Fibers in foods are complex carbohydrates. There are several types of fiber, but, for the purpose of mechanistic insight into their mode of protective action in carcinogenesis, classification into two broad types, soluble and insoluble fibers, is warranted. Soluble fibers are present in fruits, vegetables, and certain grains like oats. This type of fiber undergoes metabolism in the small intestine and especially in the large intestine through bacterial enzymes, converting it to products that increase stool size only moderately. But, they have appreciable effects in modifying the metabolism of colon carcinogens like azoxymethane to yield detoxified products and, thus, reducing colon carcinogenesis. In contrast, insoluble fibers present in sizeable amounts in bran cereals, like wheat or rice, are not significantly metabolized by enzymes in the intestinal flora. Such fibers increase stool size substantially through several mechanisms, including higher water retention. The larger bulk dilutes carcinogens, especially tumor promoters such as secondary bile acids, resulting in lower risk of colon cancer in animals and in humans. Evidence in animal models and in humans also indicates that fiber may lower the risk of breast cancer, possibly via an endocrine mechanism. Based on these concepts, increased intake of total fiber, but especially of wheat bran cereal fiber, to yield a daily stool in adults of about 200 grams can significantly reduce the risk of colon cancer and, to a lesser but definite extent, of breast cancer. Thus, adequate fiber intake from cereals, fruits, and vegetables can help prevent important types of human cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Carcinogens
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Fiber*
  • Female
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Male
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Risk Factors
  • Vegetables


  • Carcinogens
  • Dietary Fiber