Ultra-processed foods linked to male colorectal cancer risk

Men who eat high levels of ultra-processed foods have a 29% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than men who eat much lower amounts, according to research.

The study did not find the same association in women.

Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States.

“We started out thinking that colorectal cancer might be the most diet-affected cancer compared to other cancer types,” says Lu Wang, postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. and lead author of the study in The BMJ.

“Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a significant risk factor for colorectal cancer. Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for colorectal cancer.

The study analyzed the responses of more than 200,000 participants – 159,907 women and 46,341 men – across three large prospective studies that assessed dietary intake and spanned more than 25 years. The researchers provided each participant with a food frequency questionnaire every four years and asked about the frequency of consumption of about 130 foods.

The researchers then ranked participants’ consumption of ultra-processed foods into quintiles, ranging from lowest to highest consumption. Those in the highest quintile were identified as being most at risk of developing colorectal cancer. Although there was a clear link identified for men, particularly in cases of colorectal cancer in the distal colon, the study did not find an overall increased risk for women who ate higher amounts of ultra-processed foods.

Sausage, bacon and fish patties

Analyzes revealed differences in how men and women consume ultra-processed foods and the potential risk of cancer associated. Of the 206,000 participants followed for more than 25 years, the research team documented 1,294 cases of colorectal cancer in men and 1,922 cases in women.

The team found that the strongest association between colorectal cancer and ultra-processed foods in men comes from meat, poultry, or ready-to-eat fish products.

“These products include certain processed meats such as sausages, bacon, ham and fish cakes. This is consistent with our hypothesis,” says Wang.

The team also found that higher consumption of sugary drinks, such as sodas, fruit drinks and sugary milk drinks, is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in men. However, not all ultra-processed foods are equally harmful when it comes to colorectal cancer risk.

“We found an inverse association between ultra-processed dairy products like yogurt and the risk of colorectal cancer in women,” says co-lead author Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer epidemiologist and acting president of the division of the Nutritional Epidemiology and Data Science at the Friedman School. .

Overall, there was no link between consumption of ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer risk in women. It is possible that the composition of ultra-processed foods consumed by women is different from that of men.

“Foods like yogurt can potentially counteract the harmful effects of other types of ultra-processed foods in women,” says Zhang.

“Further research will need to determine if there is a true gender difference in the associations, or if the null results in the women in this study were simply due to chance or other uncontrolled confounding factors in the women who mitigated the association,” says Mingyang Song, assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health and co-lead author of the study.

Although ultra-processed foods are often associated with a poor quality diet, there could be factors other than the poor quality of the ultra-processed food diet that affect the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The potential role of food additives in altering gut microbiota, promoting inflammation, and contaminants formed during food processing or migrated from food packaging can all promote cancer development, Zhang notes.

Decades of data

With a follow-up rate of over 90% for each of the three studies, the research team had a lot of data to process and review.

“Cancer takes years, even decades, to develop, and from our epidemiological studies we have shown the potential latency effect – it takes years to see an effect of a certain exposure on the risk of cancer,” Song says. “Because of this long process, it is important to have long-term exposure to data to better assess cancer risk.”

The studies included:

  • The Nurses’ Health Study (1986-2014): 121,700 graduate nurses aged 30-55
  • The Nurses’ Health Study II (1991-2015): 116,429 nurses aged 25-42
  • The Health Professional Follow-up Study (1986-2014): 51,529 male health professionals aged 40-75.

After a process of excluding previous diagnoses or incomplete investigations, the researchers ended up with prospective data from 159,907 women from the two NHS studies and 46,341 men.

The team adjusted for potential confounders such as race, family history of cancer, endoscopy history, hours of physical activity per week, smoking status, total alcohol consumption and intake total calories, regular aspirin consumption and menopausal status.

Zhang is aware that since the participants in these studies all worked in the health field, the results for this population may not be the same as for the general population, since participants may be more inclined to eat healthier and to be more healthy. steer clear of ultra-processed foods. Data may also be skewed because treatment has changed over the past two decades.

“But we are comparing within this population those who consume higher amounts versus lower amounts,” says Zhang. “So those comparisons are valid.”

Reduce the burden of colorectal cancer

Wang and Zhang previously published a study that identified a trend of increased consumption of ultra-processed foods among American children and adolescents. Both studies underscore the idea that many different groups of people may depend on ultra-processed foods in their daily diets.

“Much of the addiction to these foods may be due to factors such as food access and convenience,” says Zhang, who is also a fellow at the Tufts Institute for Global Obesity Research.

“Chemical processing of foods can help extend shelf life, but many processed foods are less healthy than unprocessed alternatives. We need to educate consumers about the risks associated with eating unhealthy foods in quantity and make options healthier easier to choose instead.

Wang knows that change will not happen overnight and hopes that this study, among other things, will help change dietary regulations and recommendations.

“Long-term change will require a multi-step approach,” adds Wang. “Researchers continue to examine how nutrition-related policies, dietary recommendations, and recipe and formula changes, along with other healthy lifestyle habits, can improve overall health and reduce the burden of cancer. It will be important for us to continue to study the link between cancer and diet, as well as potential interventions to improve outcomes.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society funded the work.

The content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

This article was originally published by Tufts University. Republished via Futurity.org under Creative Commons License 4.0.

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