Poor Diet Found to Be Major Risk Factor for Cancer

New research showed that eating nutritious foods and avoiding non-nutritious foods might help protect against cancer.

By Mary West
Jun. 6, 2019 07:43 UTC

A study found that a poor diet poses as much of a can­cer risk as exces­sive weight and inad­e­quate exer­cise. The malig­nancy-pro­mot­ing dietary fac­tors included low fruit, veg­etable and whole grain con­sump­tion, as well as high red and processed meat intake.

The analy­sis, pub­lished in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, is one of the first to con­cen­trate on the mod­i­fi­able risk fac­tors for can­cer linked to diet. It esti­mated that food intake might be respon­si­ble for 80,110 of the can­cer cases reported in 2015, about 5.2 per­cent of the total num­ber reported.

Our find­ings under­score the oppor­tu­nity to reduce can­cer bur­den and dis­par­i­ties in the United States by improv­ing food intake.- Fang Fang Zhang, can­cer researcher at Tufts University

This pro­por­tion is on par with the four to six per­cent related to alco­hol, the seven to eight per­cent tied to exces­sive weight and the two to three per­cent con­nected to phys­i­cal inac­tiv­ity.

Our find­ings under­score the oppor­tu­nity to reduce can­cer bur­den and dis­par­i­ties in the United States by improv­ing food intake,” Fang Fang Zhang, the study’s co-author and a can­cer and nutri­tion researcher at Tufts University, said.

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To cal­cu­late the can­cer risk asso­ci­ated with poor diet, the sci­en­tists used risk esti­mates between the dis­ease and dietary fac­tors based on meta-analy­ses of prospec­tive cohort stud­ies. The stud­ies came mainly from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Third Expert Report and the World Cancer Research Fund International.

The AICR report showed con­vinc­ing or prob­a­ble evi­dence exists for the fol­low­ing con­nec­tions between can­cer and food:

  • Colon can­cer is linked to low dairy and whole grain con­sump­tion, along with high red meat and processed meat con­sump­tion.
  • Pharynx, mouth and lar­ynx can­cer is linked to low fruit and veg­etable intake.
  • Stomach can­cer is linked to high processed meat con­sump­tion.
  • Obesity and 12 types of can­cer are linked to sug­ary bev­er­age intake.

Analysis of the data revealed the results below:

  • Colorectal can­cer com­prised the high­est pro­por­tion of can­cers related to poor diet in 2015, with 38.3 per­cent of cases. The sec­ond-high­est pro­por­tion was can­cer of the phar­ynx, mouth and lar­ynx, with 25.9 per­cent of cases.
  • Low whole grain con­sump­tion was tied to the largest per­cent­age and num­ber of new can­cer cases. This was fol­lowed by low dairy intake, high processed meat intake, low fruit and veg­etable intake, high red meat intake and high sug­ary bev­er­age intake.

The can­cer cases below were attrib­uted to poor diet:

  • col­orec­tal can­cer — 52,225
  • phar­ynx, mouth and lar­ynx can­cer — 14,421
  • uter­ine can­cer — 3,165
  • post­menopausal breast can­cer — 3,059
  • kid­ney can­cer — 2,017
  • stom­ach can­cer — 1,564
  • liver can­cer — 1,000

According to the research team, the inves­ti­ga­tion had a few caveats. Self-reported dietary intake is sub­ject to inac­cu­ra­cies. Gender, eth­nic­ity and age may also affect dietary risk fac­tors linked to can­cer.

The main point the study made is that a siz­able per­cent­age of can­cer cases are due to poor diet, a fac­tor that is mod­i­fi­able.

Lisa Richards, a nutri­tion­ist and the cre­ator of the Candida diet, told Olive Oil Times why these dietary fac­tors are linked to decreased or increased can­cer risk.

Fruits and veg­eta­bles are rich in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent micronu­tri­ents that can help to reduce the risk of can­cer,” Richards said. These include vit­a­mins, min­er­als, phy­to­chem­i­cals and antiox­i­dants. By sup­port­ing your immune sys­tem, low­er­ing inflam­ma­tion and remov­ing free rad­i­cals, these vital micronu­tri­ents can lower the like­li­hood of the dis­ease. Because each fruit and veg­etable has its own set of micronu­tri­ents, the best strat­egy is to eat a broad vari­ety and as many as pos­si­ble.”

Red meat is strongly asso­ci­ated with higher rates of col­orec­tal can­cer, although the exact mech­a­nism by which this hap­pens is not yet clear,” she added. Some evi­dence indi­cates that com­pounds in red meat dam­age the intesti­nal lin­ing and pro­duce chronic inflam­ma­tion, which increases the risk of can­cer. Moreover, red meat is also fre­quently cooked at very high tem­per­a­tures, espe­cially on the grill. These high tem­per­a­tures can cre­ate car­cino­genic com­pounds on the sur­face of the meat, known as advanced gly­ca­tion end-prod­ucts.”

Processed meats typ­i­cally con­tain large amounts of nitrates and nitrites, in addi­tion to high lev­els of sat­u­rated fat and salt,” Richards con­cluded. All of these have been indi­vid­u­ally linked to higher rates of can­cer.”


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