Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Global CRC burden is expected to increase by 60% in the next decade, with low-income countries experiencing an escalation of CRC incidence and mortality in parallel to the adoption of western lifestyles. CRC incidence is also sharply increasing in individuals younger than 50 years, often presenting at advanced stages and with aggressive features. Both genetic and environmental factors have been recognized as major contributors for the development of CRC, the latter including diet-related conditions such as chronic inflammation and obesity. In particular, a diet rich in fat and sugars (Western-style diet, WSD) has been shown to induce multiple pathophysiological changes in the intestine linked to an increased risk of CRC. In this scenario, dietary factors have been recently shown to play novel unexpected roles in the regulation of intestinal stem cells (ISCs) and of the gut microbiota, which represent the two main biological systems responsible for intestinal homeostasis. Furthermore, diet is increasingly recognized to play a key role in the neoplastic transformation of ISCs and in the metabolic regulation of colorectal cancer stem cells. This review illustrates novel discoveries on the role of dietary components in regulating intestinal homeostasis and colorectal tumorigenesis. Particular focus is dedicated to new areas of research with potential clinical relevance including the effect of food components on ISCs and cancer stem cells (CSCs), the existence of CRC-specific microbial signatures and the alterations of intestinal homeostasis potentially involved in early-onset CRC. New insights on the role of dietary factors in intestinal regulation will provide new tools not only for the prevention and early diagnosis of CRC but also for improving the effectiveness of current CRC therapies.
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