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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q:        What role does a gluten-free or lactose-free diet play in reducing cancer risk?           

Gluten free bread

A:        For people who have celiac disease, closely following a gluten-free diet is vital. Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley that poses no risk to most people, but for people with this condition, it damages the intestines and that could increase risk of cancer. People with celiac disease can eat a well-balanced diet, replacing these three grains that are harmful to them with potatoes, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, beans and starch or flour made from them. However, for people without conditions that make them sensitive to gluten, research shows no cancer protection from avoiding it. In fact, whole-grain foods containing gluten can be good sources of fiber and antioxidant phytochemicals that may be cancer-protective. For people who can’t digest lactose, a milk sugar, the problem is the uncomfortable cramping and diarrhea that result from consuming it. Although a few studies have linked high consumption of lactose with greater risk of ovarian cancer, the overall evidence is not conclusive and some animal research shows possible protective effects of lactose in the colon. High consumption of dairy products is linked with increased risk of prostate cancer, especially advanced or fatal forms; but this may relate to excess consumption or calcium or some other component of milk, not lactose itself. Overall, research shows no reduction in cancer risk by avoiding foods with lactose (dairy products) if you are not lactose-intolerant. In fact, AICR’s expert report and its updates link consumption of dairy products with lower risk of colon cancer.

More on a gluten-free diet and if it is right for you.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International..

Published on 04/15/2013

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