Ultra-processed foods may increase ovarian cancer risk, British study warns


LONDON — Ultra-processed foods like cereals, frozen pizzas, ready meals and fizzy drinks may increase your risk of developing cancer — particularly ovarian or brain cancer, researchers say.

Many foods go through a moderate amount of processing — such as cheese, salted peanut butter, pasta sauce — but ultra-processed foods have more additives, artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, and preservatives. Usually they are subjected to processing methods to transform their taste, texture and appearance and can include hot dogs, doughnuts, boxed macaroni and cheese, muffins and flavored yogurt.

Researchers from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health evaluated the diets of nearly 200,000 middle-aged adults over a 10-year period in the UK and found that “higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a greater risk of generalized cancer.” and specifically ovarian and brain cancer.”

It was also associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer, they found.

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The peer-reviewed study, published in the eClinicalMedicine journal of the Lancet Tuesday, was a collaboration with researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the University of Sao Paulo and NOVA University of Lisbon.

Of the 197,426 individuals, about 15,921 people developed cancer and 4,009 cancer-related deaths occurred.

“For every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed foods in someone’s diet, there was a 2 percent increase in cancer overall and a 19 percent increase in ovarian cancer in particular,” Imperial College London said in a statement. These associations persisted after adjusting for socioeconomic factors such as smoking, physical activity and body mass index (BMI).

It’s unclear why there was a particularly high incidence in ovarian cancer – however, separate research has found a link between the disease and acrylamide, an industrial chemical formed during high-temperature cooking procedures.

“Some potentially carcinogenic agents, such as some controversial food additives and chemicals generated during processing, may interfere with hormone effects and thereby affect hormone-related cancers such as ovarian cancer,” Eszter Vamos, lead author of the study, told The Washington Post by email Wednesday. .

More studies are needed to determine the impact on women and children, she said, as the latter are the “major consumers of ultra-processed foods.”

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women in the United States — accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The cancer mainly develops in older women and is more common in white than in black women.

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Nearly 60 percent of the calories adults eat in the United States come from ultra-processed foods, which are often nutritionally poor. They account for 25 to 50 percent of the calories consumed in many other countries, including England, Canada, France, Lebanon and Japan.

The observational study “cannot definitively prove cause and effect,” Vamos noted, only showing an association between the food and increased cancer risks. However, the study argues, the findings nonetheless highlight the importance of considering food processing in diets.

“Ultra-processed foods are everywhere and heavily marketed with low price and attractive packaging to promote consumption,” study co-author Kiara Chang said in a statement. “This shows that our food environment urgently needs to be reformed to protect the population.”

Chang called for better food labeling and packaging to help consumers understand the risks of their choices, as well as subsidies for freshly prepared foods to ensure they remain accessible, “nutritious and affordable options.”

Other studies have shown an association between ultra-processed foods and higher rates of obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. A recent study of more than 22,000 people found that people who ate a lot of ultra-processed foods were 19 percent more likely to die early and 32 percent more likely to die from heart disease, compared to people who ate few ultra-processed foods. foods.

“There is a global increase in ultra-processed foods, and these products are increasingly replacing traditional foods in our diets,” says Vamos. “In general, high-income countries have the highest consumption, and the US and UK are the largest consumers.”

Brazil has banned the marketing of ultra-processed foods in schools, while France and Canada have pushed for restrictions on such foods in their national dietary guidelines.

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Panagiota Mitrou, director of research and innovation at the World Cancer Research Fund, which helped fund the study, said by email Wednesday that the findings were “significant” and should encourage people to cut back on their fast food consumption and “other high-fat processed foods.” limit, starches or sugars.”

“For maximum benefit, we also recommend making whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes a major part of your usual diet,” she added.

Anahad O’Connor contributed to this report.

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