Rutgers cancer prevention expert calls for FDA action to reduce colon cancer and osteoporosis

07/21/04

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Rutgers veteran cancer prevention expert Harold Newmark knows how to simultaneously achieve a 20 percent reduction in colon cancer deaths and osteoporosis-related fractures. Now he's calling upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help make this happen.

Newmark's call to action involves the simple addition of calcium and vitamin D to the existing FDA-mandated enrichment mix in products such as bread and pasta. He contends the measure could save 11,000 lives and an estimated $3 billion in U.S. health care costs annually. But it requires policy changes by the FDA that would need to be reflected in federal law.

In an article appearing in the Aug. 1 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Newmark and colleagues propose these nutrients be added to the current enrichment program for cereal-grain products. "The benefits would be a significant reduction in the incidences of osteoporosis and colon cancer over time and an overall improvement in health at a modest financial cost and with minor modification of existing technology," the paper concludes.

Newmark is an adjunct professor-in-residence at the Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research (Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy) of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. His coauthors are Paul Lachance of Rutgers, an authority on nutritional supplements, and Robert Heaney, an osteoporosis expert at Creighton University (Omaha).

Calcium's crucial role in bone replacement is understood, but its effect in the colon is less well known. In the presence of high-fat diets seemingly part of the American way of life calcium helps inactivate the resulting fatty acids in the colon that produce irritation, cell damage and other effects that can lead to cancer, Newmark says. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of dietary calcium by the body.

For decades, researchers have recognized the role of calcium in reducing the risk of diseases such as osteoporosis and colon cancer, but this has not been reflected in federal regulations. Newmark and his colleagues use their paper to illustrate the magnitude of the problem, explain the simplicity of the solution and underscore the urgency of making the needed policy changes.

U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys cited in the paper show that Americans consume seriously inadequate dietary calcium and vitamin D far below the recommended levels established by the Food Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. The Code of Federal Regulations (Title 21) requires the enrichment of certain cereal-derived food products with vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and iron, but calcium and vitamin D are optional and consequently ignored by producers, the authors contend.

"For about 10 cents per person per year, we can use existing technology to correct all this," Newmark says. "We believe that the time has come for a full scientific review of cereal-grain enrichment with calcium and vitamin D as a low-cost, safe and useful route for the reduction of osteoporosis and colon cancer in the United States in both men and women."

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