Just 30 minutes of exercise causes release of protein that protects against colon cancer

If you needed some extra motivation to take that daily jog or go to the gym more often, British researchers are providing some exciting research. For the first time, scientists have shown how exercise can decrease your risk of colon cancer and slow the growth of tumors.

Scientists at Newcastle University in England report that physical activity causes the cancer-fighting protein, interleukin-6 (IL-6), to be released into the bloodstream. It helps repair the DNA of damaged cells. The findings demonstrate the importance of moderate activity in the fight against the life-threatening illness.

“The more physical activity people do, the lower their chances of getting [colon cancer]. Our findings support this idea,” says Dr. Sam Orange, a lecturer in exercise physiology at Newcastle, in a statement. “When exercise is repeated multiple times each week over an extended period, cancer-fighting substances – such as IL-6 – released into the bloodstream have the opportunity to interact with abnormal cells, repairing their DNA, and lessening the risk of transformation  into cancer.”

The team from Newcastle and York St John universities recruited 16 men aged 50-80, all of whom had lifestyle risk factors for colon cancer, such as being overweight or obese. They were not physically active. After providing a blood sample, the participants exercised on stationary bicycles for 30-minutes at moderate intensity. A second blood sample was taken as soon as they finished pedaling.

On a different day, scientists collected blood samples, the participants were at rest for 30 minutes, and blood samples were drawn again. Blood taken after exercise had an increase in IL-6 protein, compared to the baseline sample. The blood collected after rest had no increase in IL-6 protein over baseline.

Scientists added the blood samples to colon cancer cells in a laboratory and monitored cell growth for 48 hours. There was less growth of cancer cells in specimens mixed with blood collected after exercise, compared with specimens mixed with blood collected at rest.

There was less DNA damage in the blood drawn after exercise than in the blood samples drawn at rest. This suggests that physical activity can repair cells to create a genetically stable cell type.

“Our findings are exciting because they reveal a newly identified mechanism underlying how physical activity reduces colon cancer risk that is not dependent on weight loss,” says Dr. Orange. “Understanding these mechanisms better could help develop more precise exercise guidelines for cancer prevention. It could also help develop drug treatments that mimic some of the health benefits of exercise.

Physical activity of any type, and any duration, can improve health and reduce colon cancer risk but more is always better. People who are sedentary should begin by moving more and look to build physical activity into their daily routines,” he continues.

Adds co-author Dr. Adam Odell of York St. John University: “Importantly, it is not just [colon] cancer risk that can be reduced by leading a more active lifestyle. Clear links exist between higher exercise levels and a lower risk of developing other cancers, such as cancers of the breast and endometrium.”

The team intends further research to identify how exercise reduces DNA damage in early-stage cancers and to establish the most effective form of exercise for prevention.

The study is published in the International Journal of Cancer.


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About the Author

Dr. Faith Coleman

Faith A. Coleman MD
Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

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