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Cancer risk could increase with consumption of certain foods and drinks, study finds

Consuming certain foods and drinks could put people at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC), according to a new study published in the journal Nutrients.

Researchers from the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China analyzed 139 dietary factors and their impact on the risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC).

The participants included 118,210 people who participated in the long-running UK Biobank study — all of whom completed online questionnaires about their food intake

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After a mean follow-up of 12.8 years, the researchers identified eight foods that were shown to influence CRC risk.

The first two, alcohol and white bread, were found to increase the risk, regardless of genetic factors.

Previous studies also linked alcohol with increased cancer risk

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“Ethanol in any type of alcoholic beverage is a known risk factor for CRC because its first metabolite, acetaldehyde, has been evaluated as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research,” the study authors wrote.

The white bread-related risk is also consistent with previous studies, they noted.

“Notably, whole grains are a major source of many vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that have anti-cancer properties and may influence CRC risk through several potential mechanisms,” the authors wrote.

The other six dietary elements – fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and carbohydrate intake – were all found to lower the risk of colorectal cancer, the researchers found.

The remaining foods did not show any impact on CRC risk.

These results persisted after adjusting for such factors as family history, age, gender, socioeconomic deprivation and education.

Fox News Digital reached out to the study authors for comment.

Misagh Karimi, M.D., a medical oncologist and colorectal cancer specialist at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in Irvine, California, was not involved in the study but offered his reaction to its results.

“The findings of this study reaffirm the well-established connection between lifestyle and dietary choices and the prevention of colorectal cancer,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“These findings emphasize the critical importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits, which include limiting alcohol consumption and choosing a diet rich in high-fiber foods to mitigate the risk of cancer,” Karimi added.

While the study doesn’t negate the importance of considering genetic factors in cancer risk, the doctor noted that it does underscore the impact diet can have on cancer prevention.

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“This study also stands out because of its size and design,” said Karimi.

“It involved a large sample population of 500,000 middle-aged people, a long follow-up period and a comprehensive assessment of dietary factors.”

The study did have one important limitation, however.

“As the researchers state, analysis was limited to a European population,” noted Karimi. 

“To ensure the applicability of these findings to diverse populations, further studies are needed to validate these results on a wider population.”

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Erin Palinski-Wade, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian, also weighed in on the findings. She was not involved in the study.

“These results make sense, as diets rich in simple sugars along with excessive alcohol can increase cancer risk, especially for those who carry an increased genetic risk of developing cancer,” she told Fox News Digital. 

“However, it is important to remember that this research shows association, not causation,” she said.

It is possible that a person who eats larger amounts of white bread consumes lower amounts of whole grains and fiber overall, the dietitian pointed out.

“And since fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer, consuming a diet low in fiber can increase risk, not the white bread itself,” she said. 

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With alcohol intake, Palinski-Wade noted that quantity and frequency will have a significant impact on disease risk. 

“In addition, we do not know what other lifestyle behaviors those consuming alcohol regularly in this research engaged in,” she said.

While the research highlights that eating more fiber and more whole foods can be beneficial in reducing cancer risk, Palinski-Wade noted that diet is not the only factor in cancer risk. 

“In addition, one specific food, such as white bread, will not make or break your health,” she added. 

“The overall nutrition quality of your full diet, day after day, will have the biggest impact.”

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While the dietitian recommends choosing whole grains over refined grains when possible, she said that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to avoid white bread altogether or that abstaining from eating it will automatically lower the risk.

“Instead, you should look at the full picture of your dietary and lifestyle behaviors consistently over time to assess and improve your own risk factors,” she said.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer among U.S. adults, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). 

In 2023, it is expected that 106,970 new cases of colon cancer and 46,050 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed.

While rates have been dropping among older adults in recent decades, they have been rising among people under 50, increasing 1% to 2% per year since the mid-1990s, per the ACS.

Dietary factors are known to contribute to a higher risk of these types of cancers.

A diet that is low in fruits, vegetables and fiber — or high in fat or processed meats — can contribute to a higher risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Alcohol consumption and tobacco use can also increase the risk, the health agency stated.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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