NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A healthy amount of fiber and whole grain foods in the diet not only protects against colon cancer, it also protects against cancer developing in the small intestine, research indicates.

The small intestine makes up 75 percent of the digestive tract, yet rarely do cancers develop there, more often showing up in the large intestine, or colon, Dr. Arthur Schatzkin from the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland and colleagues explain in the journal Gastroenterology.

To gauge the effects of dietary fiber and whole grain foods for protecting against the occurrence of small bowel cancer, they analyzed data gathered in 1995 and 1996 from 293,703 men and 198,618 women in the Diet and Health Study. During follow-up over an average of 7 years, cancer of the small intestine was diagnosed in 165 study subjects.

Results showed that those with the highest intake of fiber from grains, relative to those with the lowest, had a significant 49 percent reduction in the risk of developing small bowel cancer.

Those with the highest intake of whole grain foods had a 41-percent reduction in small bowel cancer risk relative to those with the lowest intake of whole grain foods.

Current recommendations call for US adults to consume 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber per day, but studies have shown that the average American’s daily intake of dietary fiber is only 12 to 18 grams.

The one-fifth of people in the current study with the lowest fiber intake averaged 12 grams per day, and the one-fifth in the highest ranking took in an average of 28 grams per day.

SOURCE: Gastroenterology, October 2008.