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The incidence of colon cancer is high in many developed nations, especially New Zealand. Molecular understanding of the nature of colon cancer shows a disease whose well-characterized morphological progression is paralleled at the cellular level by increased numbers of gene or chromosome mutations, loss of heterozygosity, changed methylation patterns, and genomic instability. In the present study, we consider whether an imbalance of factors that affect DNA methylation patterns might explain at least part of the high colon cancer incidence in New Zealand. Folate is the major micronutrient whose intake impacts methylation, particularly through interaction with choline and methionine. Folate is generally somewhat deficient in the New Zealand diet, with the voluntary addition of folate to white flour not producing desired levels. Selenium affects methylation status in several ways and is recognized as being low in New Zealand soils and, therefore, diet. Zinc is also low in the diets of some New Zealand population groups, which can lead to hypomethylation. Several of the components of fruits and vegetables affect methylation patterns, and the average New Zealand intake, at two to three servings per day, is considerably below recommended amounts. Low dietary fiber, high tobacco use, and increasing rates of obesity are also likely New Zealand risk factors that may impact on methylation status. Dietary supplementation is not as common in New Zealand as in countries such as the United States, but may provide a way to raise the levels of nutrients and phytochemicals affecting methylation status, thereby enhancing colon cancer protection.

Original publication




Journal article


Environ mol mutagen

Publication Date





36 - 43


Alcohol Drinking, Colonic Neoplasms, DNA Methylation, Dietary Fiber, Folic Acid, Genistein, Humans, Meat, Micronutrients, Models, Biological, New Zealand, Niacin, Obesity, Polymorphism, Genetic, Riboflavin, Risk Factors, Selenium, Smoking, Vitamin B 12, Vitamin B 6, Zinc