Project results on the relationships between gut microbiota, red meat consumption and colorectal cancer

According to the WHO, colorectal cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death from cancer. A diet high in red and processed meat has been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The gut microbiome plays an important role in digesting food by the body and is important for maintaining health. Although various mechanisms have been implicated in causing colorectal cancer risk, it is still not clear whether (and how) the gut microbiome plays a role in this process.

In the past 4 years (2018-2022), the Faecal microbiome as determinant of the effect of diet on colorectal-cancer risk: comparison of meatbased versus pesco-vegetarian diets (MeaTic)’ project has studied the role of the microbiome in the relationship between nutrition (in particular red/processed meat intake) and the development of colorectal cancer. Researchers from Italy, France and the Netherlands were involved in the project. The project was cofunded by the European Commission within the HDHL-INTIMIC cofunded call.


The aim of the project was to understand the role of the intestinal microbiome as a determinant of the effect of diet on colorectal cancer risk and to identify specific microbiome/metabolomic profiles associated with cancer risk. For this, 3 studies have been conducted with 3 different diets: 1) red meat-based diet, 2) red meat-based diet with vitamin E supplementation, and 3) fish-vegetable based diet. The first study was conducted in healthy volunteers, the second in carcinogen-induced rats, and the third in carcinogen-induced germ-free rats that received a microbiome from rats that have eaten the 3 different diets. Various parameters have been investigated within these 3 studies that provided indications for health, disease and the underlying mechanisms.


Results from the human study showed that the red meat-based diet was associated with an increase in markers of colon cancer risk, whereas no effect of the fish-vegetable diet was observed. On the other hand, a complete protection from the effect of the meat-based diet was found upon supplementation of the meat-based diet with vitamin E.

In the animal studies, the results showed a significantly lower number of colon and total tumours in the rats treated with the fish-vegetable based diet. In addition, a significant difference of the bacterial community between the 3 diets was found. In particular, the fish-vegetable diet was associated with the abundance of beneficial bacteria species including PrevotellaceaeLachnospiraceae, and Ruminococcaceae. Overall, the results from the animal studies demonstrate the protective properties of fish-vegetable diet and confirm the carcinogenetic activity of meat-based diets.

In conclusion, the project results provided fundamental insight into the role of the microbiome in the relationship between nutrition and colorectal cancer risk. Read more about the results here

In total, 11 projects were funded within the HDHL-INTIMIC cofunded call. All results will be shared on our website. Stay tuned! See ‘more information’ below for already published project results.

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