Feature Archive

Fiber Roughs It Out

Can fiber prevent colon cancer? Studies are mixed. But there's no doubt it's good for your heart.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

White bread. Refined flour. Junk food. Each culprits, and together the prime suspects for causing the country's most heinous health ills. Health experts implored Americans to substitute multigrain pancakes for fluffy waffles and bran muffins for bagels. Fiber was the be-all and end-all. It was the lifeboat riding above the tide of colon cancer -- one of the most feared cancers of all.

Researchers dubbed fiber a "colonic broom." The long, stringy strands of whole wheat and other fiber-rich foods formed a meshwork that grabbed on to cancer-causing substances and hustled them out of the intestines. It made sense. Few physicians disputed the recommendations.

Then came the headlines that slowed the momentum. One study involving nearly 90,000 women showed that fiber wasn't the crown prince of nutrients, after all. Women who ate about 28 grams of fiber a day weren't any less likely to develop colon cancer than those who ate no more than 8.5 grams, according to research published in the January 21, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Along came more studies, published in the May 3, 2003 issue of The Lancet. Only these two studies show that people who eat high fiber diets are 25% less likely to develop colon cancer.