A new study suggests that middle age men who were overweight or obese between the ages of 16 and 20 are twice as likely of suffering from bowel cancer by the time they hit 50.
The new finding should be of little surprise as many past studies have shown how obesity in adults can increase the chances of bowel cancer.
But now, Scientists from Harvard University and from Sweden have teamed up and have asked the other half of the question – does it increase or double your chances of suffering from the disease if your extra pounds are in the past?
For the study, published in the journal Gut, the researchers examined a large number of young Swedish men who were conscripted into military service between the ages of 16 and 20.
They were interested in finding out whether or not the participants’ body mass index (BMI, a relationship between weight and height) in their youth was relevant to their chances of getting bowel cancer many years later.
No less than 240.000 recruits underwent mandatory checks for their height and weight when they joined up, as well as a test called ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate), meant to assess the level of inflammation in the body and even show a predisposition towards certain diseases.
At the time of conscription, almost 12% of the men were underweight, roughly 81% were of normal weight, about 5% were moderately overweight, 1.5% were very overweight, and 1% were obese.
About 35 years later, the scientists found that 885 of the men had developed bowel cancer, with 384 of them being rectal cancers.
Those who were very overweight, meaning they had their BMI somewhere between 27.5 and 30, were as likely of suffering from bowel cancer.
Those who had been obese in their youth, meaning they had their BMI over 30, were 2.38 times more likely to be at risk of developing bowel cancer, when compared to participant with normal BMI.
Statistically speaking, a normal BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 25.
To make matters worse, systemic inflammation also raised the young men’s chances of getting bowel cancer. Inflammation on its own is not necessarily bad – it’s part of the body’s natural responses to infection and wounds and important to the healing process.
However, chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases, including various forms of cancer. As of yet, scientists can’t quite offer a good explanation as to why this happens, but they did discover with absolute ceetainty that men with a high inflammation rate in the ESR test had a 65 percent (65%) greater chance of bowel cancer than those with a low rate.
An important observation was that not all the men who were obese got a high score in the ESR test.
What this means is that the road from obesity to bowel cancer does not necessarily go through inflammation as measured by ESR.
Another paper has suggested that because men experience a period of accelerate growth between adolescence and adulthood, it may vulnerable and susceptible to the disease.
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