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November 7, 2013 | 3 minute read

Pro-Inflammatory Diet Linked to Earlier Death

New study uses dietary index of inflammation to link pro-inflammatory foods with cancer deaths.

BETHESDA, MD — Chronic inflammation appears to play a key role in the development of cancer, along with heart disease and diabetes. Now a new study presented today suggests that eating a diet high in sugar, saturated fats and others foods that promote inflammation increases the risk of premature death from any cause, including cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.

The study was one of the approximately 130 poster presentations featured today at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Annual Research Conference.

Study researchers used an inflammatory index of foods and nutrients developed by University of South Carolina (USC) researchers.

“Studies have shown that diet can modify inflammation, and inflammation can drive the growth of many cancers, such as colorectal cancer,” says Susan E. Steck, PhD, MPH, RD, USC Associate Professor and co-author of the study. “In previous studies, we found that dietary inflammatory index scores were associated with levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

This new study extends the research to examine disease outcomes, and suggests that consuming fewer pro-inflammatory dietary factors and more anti-inflammatory dietary factors may reduce risk of gastrointestinal tract cancer death.”

The study followed 10,525 men and women in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study from 1987 through 2003. Participants had completed three-day food records when the study began.

At the end of the study, 259 people had died; 30 from gastrointestinal tract cancers. Gastrointestinal tract cancers include cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.

Compared to those consuming the most anti-inflammatory diet, participants consuming the most pro-inflammatory diet had a 53 percent higher risk of mortality during the course of the study. (The risk slightly decreased after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness.)

For gastrointestinal tract cancers, there was a four-fold increase among the group consuming the most pro-inflammatory diet compared to the most anti-inflammatory.

“This study adds support to the recommendations to consume a more anti-inflammatory diet, rich in plant-based foods that contain numerous anti-inflammatory nutrients and phytochemicals,” said Fred Tabung, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the University of South Carolina and the study’s lead author.

He added: “Due to the small number of gastrointestinal tract cancers in our study, our finding needs to be confirmed in larger longitudinal studies.”

Study authors were funded by the National Cancer Institute and the USC Center for Colon Cancer.



To the Editors:

Tabung FK1, Steck SE1, Zhang J, Wirth M, Shivappa N, Hurley T, Sui X, Lee D5, Blair SN, Hebert JR . “Dietary inflammatory index and risk of mortality: findings from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study.” 2013.

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