Bowel cancer patients should eat nuts, suggest study

Patients with bowel cancer could increase their likelihood of survival by eating nuts, claims new research.

Consuming two handfuls of walnuts each week boosts their chances of overcoming the disease by 57 per cent – compared to those who don’t.

And a similar amount of nuts – defined as two portions weighing 1oz – slashed their likelihood of the cancer returning, scientists found.

Some 826 patients with stage three colon cancer were followed. This is when the disease has started to spread across the body. 

Consuming just two handfuls of almonds, walnuts or cashews each week boosts the survival chances of patients with bowel cancer by 57 per cent

Experts at the Yale Cancer Center, run by scientists from the prestigious university, also noted a greater benefit from eating tree nuts.

They found the disease-free survival increased by 46 per cent among those patients who ate such nuts.

Tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans. In contrast, peanuts are classed as a legume.

However, the latest trial was partly funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation.

The National Cancer Institute – the US Government’s agency responsible for cancer research – also gave it a cash boost.

All of the 826 patients involved in the study were followed for six years, on average. They had all been treated with surgery and chemotherapy.

Researchers, led by Dr Temidayo Fadelu, published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

He said: ‘The results highlight the importance of emphasizing dietary and life-style factors in colon cancer survivorship.’

Dr Fadelu suggested eating nuts should be considered as important a change as exercising more and cutting out sugar.   

It is believed that nuts help to beat cancer by making patients less insulin resistant – which leads to less sugar in the blood.

Evidence highlights a link between factors that heighten insulin resistance, such as obesity, with poor colon cancer outcomes.

However, Dr Charles Fuchs, a senior author of the study, added: ‘We don’t know yet what exactly about nuts is beneficial.’

It could boil down to the fact patients are skipping excess carbohydrates – which can fuel obesity – in favour of nuts. 

Dr Fuchs added: ‘People ask me if increasing nut consumption will lead to obesity, which leads to worse outcomes.

‘But what’s really interesting is that in our studies, and across the scientific literature in general, regular consumers of nuts tend to be leaner.’ 

More than 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK – which is also known as colon cancer.


Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK. 

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.