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salad and toastVegetarian Diets and Cancer Risk

Plant-based studies link to lower risk of cancer but research has not shown that plant-only diets – vegetarian diets – lower cancer risk. But the latest study on the topic suggests that among a population known for having a healthy diet, eating a vegetarian diet may reduce overall cancer risk modestly compared to meat-eaters. The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

For the study, researchers analyzed the eating patterns among almost 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists, a group that traditionally does not smoke or drink alcohol. Many of this religion are vegetarians or eat a plant-based diet.

When participants joined the study, which began in 2002, they answered questions on their eating habits. Participants were then classified into a dietary category, such as vegan, vegetarian, pescotarian (fish eating), and non-vegetarians. Slightly over half of the participants were vegetarians. The non-vegetarians consumed red meat, poultry and/or fish at least once per week.

Compared to the non-vegetarians – vegetarians had almost a 10 percent reduced risk of all cancers combined, when the authors adjusted for age. Taking BMI, smoking, alcohol use and other risk factors into account – but not age – linked to a similar reduced risk. There was also an association between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus and stomach, colon and pancreas.

When focusing on specific types of vegetarian diets, the vegan diets showed protection for overall cancer incidence also.

The study was funded in part by The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF); AICR is part of the WCRF global network. 

Source: Yessenia Tantamango-Bartley, Karen Jaceldo-Siegl, Jing Fan, et al. “Vegetarian Diets and the Incidence of Cancer in a Low-risk Population.” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2013;22:286-294. February 2013.

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