Colorectal Cancer Prevention: Spinach Reduces Intestinal Polyps in Predisposed Rats

In a new study, researchers showed that spinach could prevent colorectal cancer. The study, which looked at the interaction between different organ systems, provides an explanation of the mechanisms involved. This approach confirmed the benefits of a high-fiber diet and opens the way to new possibilities for the prevention of colorectal cancer.



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According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. It can develop from intestinal polyps (5-10% of polyps develop into cancer). It is therefore very important for people over 50 to undergo systematic screening. This is particularly important for people with a family history. In fact, there is a hereditary pathology called familial adenomatous polyposis, which results in a large number of tumors in the colon that can become cancerous.

Spinach: health benefits and anti-cancer properties

Many studies (e.g. by the National Cancer Institute) have shown that fiber-rich plant foods can reduce the risk of cancer. In addition, spinach has many benefits for the body:

  • Being rich in vitamin K1 (protection against ventricular hypertrophy),
  • Glutathione (against oxidative stress), and
  • Folate (reducing the risk of atherosclerotic plaque formation).

In a previous study, researchers at the University of Oregon had already shown that spinach has a preventive effect against colon cancer in rats.

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Anti-cancer properties of spinach described using a multiomic approach

Unlike traditional biology, “omics” research, is based on high-throughput biotechnology and advances in information science and focuses on biological processes that are occurring at different cellular levels. All cellular data are analyzed in terms of different systems, such as the genome, the microbiome (the whole gut microbiota), the transcriptome (all RNA resulting from gene expression), and the metabolome (all metabolites resulting from cellular activity). The living organism, as a result, is understood as a whole to better understand pathogenic processes.

Using this methodology, Texas researchers have demonstrated the anti-cancer properties of spinach in mutant rats carrying polyposis genes.

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The original aim was to study the anticancer effects of chlorophyll, but using a novel approach, the researchers found that the gut microbiome of spinach-fed rats was altered. The influence of certain genotoxic bacteria on the development of colorectal cancer has already been suspected and the link between the microbiota and cancer risk factors has been widely debated. In the present study, the investigators point to a possible role of spinach in altering the composition of the gut microbiota, which reversed the effects of the genetic predisposition for polyps in mutant rats. In other words, they have found that spinach consumption affects key genes associated with the disease’s pathogenesis.

A metabolome study was performed to correlate these elements. There is evidence that several metabolites of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) in spinach were lower in rats fed a control diet. The authors suggest that these molecules have anti-inflammatory and apoptotic (cancer cell death-promoting) properties.

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Final thoughts

This work provides evidence for the anticancer effects of spinach in a rat model predisposed to polyposis. This methodology will help to develop new guidelines to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the association between diet and colorectal cancer.

Eating fiber-rich foods has already been proven to protect against many diseases of the digestive tract.  So increasing one’s consumption of spinach could only help as it has many more health benefits.


Dietary spinach reshapes the gut microbiome in an Apc-mutant genetic background: mechanistic insights from integrated multi-omics

MicroRNA profiling of carcinogen-induced rat colon tumors and the influence of dietary spinach



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