Ultra-processed foods linked to ovarian and other cancer deaths, study finds

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Eating more ultra-processed foods increases the risk of developing and dying from cancer, particularly ovarian cancer, according to a new study of more than 197,000 people in the UK, more than half of whom are women.

Overly processed foods include prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizzas, and ready meals, as well as hot dogs, sausages, French fries, soda, store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, donuts, ice cream, and more.

“Ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to alter color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life,” says first author Dr. Kiara Chang, a National Institute for Health and Care Research fellow at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said in a statement.

“Our bodies may not respond to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives in the same way as they do to fresh and nutritious, minimally processed foods,” Chang said.

However, people who eat more ultra-processed foods also tend to “drink more carbonated drinks and less tea and coffee, as well as fewer vegetables and other foods associated with a healthy diet,” says Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior lecturer. fellow at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK, in an email.

“This could mean that it may not be an effect specifically of the ultra-processed foods themselves, but instead reflects the impact of a lower intake of healthier foods,” said Mellor, who was not involved in the study.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal eClinicalMedicine, looked at the link between eating ultra-processed foods and 34 different types of cancer over a 10-year period.

Researchers examined information about the eating habits of 197,426 people who were part of the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource that followed residents from 2006 to 2010.

The amount of ultra-processed food consumed by people in the study ranged from a low of 9.1% to a high of 41.4% of their diet, the study found.

Eating patterns were then compared to medical records that listed both cancer diagnoses and deaths.

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

Cancer deaths also increased, the study found. For every additional 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption, the risk of dying from any type of cancer increased by 6%, while the risk of dying from ovarian cancer increased by 30%, the statement said.

“These associations persisted after adjusting for a range of socio-demographic, smoking status, physical activity and key dietary factors,” the authors wrote.

When it comes to cancer deaths in women, ovarian cancer ranks fifth more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system,” noted the American Cancer Society.

“The findings add to previous studies showing a link between a higher proportion of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in the diet and a higher risk of obesity, heart attacks, strokes and type 2 diabetes,” says food scientist Simon Steenson. at the British Nutrition Foundation, a charity supported in part by food producers and manufacturers. Steenson was not involved in 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 for a clear causal relationship between UPFs and cancer, or the risk of other diseases,” said Steenson in an email.

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

Large consumers of ultra-processed foods were less likely to exercise and more likely to be classified as obese. These people also likely had lower family incomes and education and live in the most disadvantaged communities, the study found.

“This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health, including our risk of cancer,” says Dr. Eszter Vamos, the study’s lead author and a clinical associate professor at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health. in a statement.

This latest research isn’t the first to show a link between a high intake of ultra-processed foods and cancer.

A 2022 study examined the diets of more than 200,000 men and women in the United States for up to 28 years and found a link between ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer — the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States — in men, but not in women.

And there are “literally hundreds of studies (that) link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality,” Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, previously told CNN.

While the new UK-based study cannot prove causation, only an association, “other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diets may yield important health benefits,” Vamos said.

“Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harm of ultra-processed foods in our diets,” she added.

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