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Vegetarian diet may protect against bowel disease

Researchers at Oxford University have found that the risk of developing a common bowel disorder, called diverticular disease, is 30% lower among vegetarians.

Diverticular disease is believed to be caused by the low consumption of fibre. Typical symptoms of the disorder include cramps, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea.

The research team led by Dr Francesca Crowe, from the university's Cancer Epidemiology Unit, examined how a lower risk of diverticular disease is linked to a vegetarian diet and the intake of dietary fibre in 47,033 British adults, with 15,459 of them vegetarian.

They found that 812 participants were suffering from diverticular disease after an average follow-up period of 11.6 years.

Vegetarians were found to be less likely to develop the disease, compared with meat eaters.

Researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal that eating meat may alter the metabolism of bacteria in the colon. This weakens the colon wall, putting the person at a higher risk of developing diverticular disease.

They found that it is possible to see the potential protective benefits of a vegetarian diet within a short time.

Copyright Press Association 2011