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Ultra-processed Foods & Cancer Deaths Linked

Ultra-processed Foods & Cancer Deaths Linked

A new study of over 197,000 people in the United Kingdom, more than half of whom were women, found that eating more ultra-processed foods increases the risk of developing and dying from cancer, particularly ovarian cancer.

Prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, and ready-to-eat meals, as well as hot dogs, sausages, french fries, sodas, store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, doughnuts, ice cream, and many other items, are examples of overly processed foods.

“Ultra-processed foods are made from industrially derived ingredients and frequently contain food additives to adjust color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life,” said first author Dr. Kiara Chang, a National Institute for Health and Care Research fellow at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health.

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“Our bodies may react differently to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives than they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods,” Chang explained.

People who consume more ultra-processed foods, on the other hand, tend to “drink more fizzy drinks and less tea and coffee, as well as fewer vegetables and other foods associated with a healthy dietary pattern,” according to Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK, in an email.

“This could imply that it is not a result of the ultra-processed foods themselves, but rather of a lower intake of healthier foods,” said Mellor, who was not involved in the study.

Consumption increased the risk.

Ultra-processed Foods & Cancer Deaths Linked. The 10-year study, published Tuesday in the journal eClinicalMedicine, looked at the link between eating ultra-processed foods and 34 different types of cancer.

Researchers examined eating habits data from 197,426 people in the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database, and research resource that followed residents from 2006 to 2010.

According to the study, the amount of ultra-processed foods consumed by people in the study ranged from 9.1% to 41.4% of their diet.

Eating habits were then compared to medical records that included both cancer diagnoses and deaths.

According to a statement issued by Imperial College London, each 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a 2% increase in developing any cancer and a 19% increased risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Cancer deaths increased as well, according to the study. According to the statement, for every 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption, the risk of dying from any cancer increased by 6%, while the risk of dying from ovarian cancer increased by 30%.

“These associations persisted even after controlling for a variety of socio-demographic, smoking status, physical activity, and key dietary factors,” the researchers wrote.

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Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in women, “accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system,” according to the American Cancer Society.

“The findings add to previous studies showing an association between a higher proportion of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in the diet and a higher risk of obesity, heart attacks, stroke, and type 2 diabetes,” said Simon Steenson, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, a charity partially funded by food manufacturers and producers. Steenson was not a part of the new study.

“However, an important limitation of these previous studies and the new analysis published today is that the findings are observational and thus do not provide evidence of a clear causal link between UPFs and cancer, or the risk of other diseases,” Steenson explained via email.

Obtaining evidence

People who consumed the most ultra-processed foods “were younger and less likely to have a family history of cancer,” according to Chang and her colleagues.

Ultra-processed food consumers were less likely to engage in physical activity and were more likely to be classified as obese. According to the study, these people were also more likely to have lower household incomes and education, as well as to live in the most disadvantaged communities.

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Ultra-processed Foods & Cancer Deaths Linked. “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to harm our health, including our risk of cancer,” said Dr. Eszter Vamos, the study’s lead author and clinical senior lecturer at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, in a statement.

This is not the first study to find a link between a high intake of ultra-processed foods and cancer.

A 2022 study looked at the diets of over 200,000 men and women in the United States for up to 28 years and discovered a link between ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer — the third most common cancer in the country — in men but not women.

There are also “literally hundreds of studies” linking ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality, according to Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

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While the new study from the United Kingdom cannot prove causation, only an association, “other available evidence suggests that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet could provide important health benefits,” according to Vamos.

“Further research is required to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diet,” she concluded.