Researchers at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health assessed the diets of almost 200,000 middle-aged adults over a 10-year period in the UK and found that “higher consumption consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a higher risk of cancer in general”. and more particularly 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 Tuesday in the Lancet journal eClinicalMedicine, 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 people, some 15,921 people developed cancer and 4,009 cancer-related deaths occurred.
“For every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet, there was a 2% increase in the incidence of cancer in general and 19% of ovarian cancer in particular. “, Imperial College London said in a statement. These associations remained after adjusting for socioeconomic factors such as smoking, physical activity, and body mass index (BMI).
It is unclear why there has been a particularly high increase in the incidence of ovarian cancers – however, separate research has found an association between the disease and acrylamide, an industrial chemical formed during high temperature cooking.
“Certain potentially carcinogenic agents, such as certain controversial food additives and chemical agents generated during processing, may interfere with hormonal effects and thus affect hormone-related cancers such as ovarian cancer,” said Eszter Vamos, lead author of the study, Washington. Posted by email on Wednesday.
More studies are needed to determine the impact on women and children, she said, as the latter tend to be the “major consumers of ultra-processed foods”.
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth among 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 black women, he said.
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Nearly 60% of the calories consumed by adults in the United States come from ultra-processed foods, which often have low nutritional value. They also make up 25-50% 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, showing only an association between foods and increased cancer risks. However, according to the study, the findings nonetheless underscore the importance of considering food processing in diets.
“Ultra-processed foods are everywhere and heavily marketed with cheap prices and attractive packaging to promote consumption,” study author Kiara Chang said in a statement. “It shows that our food environment needs urgent reform to protect people.”
Chang called for better food labeling and packaging to make it clear to consumers 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 a link 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 had a 19% higher chance of dying prematurely and a 32% higher risk of dying from heart disease, per compared to people who ate few ultra-processed foods. food.
“There has been a global increase in ultra-processed foods, and these products are increasingly replacing traditional foods in our diets,” Vamos said. “In general, high-income countries have the highest levels of consumption, and the US and UK are the top consumers.”
Brazil has banned the marketing of ultra-processed foods in schools, while France and Canada have pushed to limit 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 on Wednesday that the results were “meaningful” and should encourage people to limit their consumption of fast food and “other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars.
“For maximum benefit, we also recommend making whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes a major part of your regular diet,” she added.
Anahad O’Connor contributed to this report.