Ultra-processed foods may increase risks of ovarian and other cancers, study finds

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LONDON — Ultra-processed foods such as breakfast cereals, frozen pizza, ready meals and soft drinks may increase the risk of developing cancer, particularly ovarian or brain cancer, researchers say.

Many foods go through a moderate amount of processing, such as cheese, salty peanut butter, pasta sauce, but ultra-processed foods have more additives, artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, and preservatives. They typically undergo processing methods to transform their flavor, texture, and appearance and may include hot dogs, doughnuts, boxed macaroni and cheese, muffins, and flavored yogurts.

Researchers from the Imperial College London 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 increased risk cancer in general 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 Tuesday in the Lancet’s 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 percent increase in ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet, there was a 2 percent increase in incidence for cancer overall and a 19 percent increase for ovarian cancer specifically,” Imperial College London said in a statement. These links held after adjusting for socioeconomic factors such as smoking, physical activity, and body mass index (BMI).

It is not clear why there was a particularly high increase in the incidence of ovarian cancers; however, separate investigations found an association between the disease and acrylamide, an industrial chemical that is formed during high-temperature cooking procedures.

“Some potentially cancer-causing agents, such as some controversial food additives and chemical agents generated during processing, can interfere with hormonal effects and therefore affect hormone-related cancers such as ovarian cancer,” he told The Washington Eszter Vamos, lead lead author of the study. Post by email on Wednesday.

More studies are needed to determine the impact on women and children, he said, since the latter tend to be the “main consumers of ultra-processed foods.”

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth among cancer deaths among women in the United States, representing more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The cancer occurs primarily in older women and is more common in white than black women, she said.

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Nearly 60 percent of the calories American adults eat come from ultra-processed foods, which are often low in nutritional value. 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 prove cause and effect” definitively, Vamos noted, showing only an association between food and increased cancer risk. However, the study argues, the findings highlight the importance of considering food processing in diets.

“Ultra-processed foods are ubiquitous and highly marketed with cheap prices and attractive packaging to promote consumption,” study author Kiara Chang said in a statement. “This shows that our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population.”

Chang called for better food labeling and packaging to clarify 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, high blood pressure, 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 early and a 32% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with people who ate little. ultra-processed foods. foods

“There has been a global rise 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, with the US and UK being 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 Wednesday that the findings were “significant” and should encourage people to limit their consumption of fast food. and “other high-fat processed foods.” starches or sugars.

“For maximum benefit, we also recommend that you include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes as a significant part of your regular diet,” he added.

Anahad O’Connor contributed to this report.

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