July 12, 2024
Ultra-Processed Foods Associated with Increased Risk of Certain Cancers

Ultra-Processed Foods Associated with Increased Risk of Certain Cancers

Consuming a high amount of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) has been found to be linked to a higher risk of developing head, neck, and esophageal cancers, according to a recent study. The research, conducted by the University of Bristol, also found that obesity, which is often caused by the consumption of these foods, was not a significant contributing factor. This highlights the need to explore factors other than body fat to explain the association between UPFs and cancer.

UPFs are typically low in nutrients and high in energy. They often contain additives and ingredients that are not commonly used in homemade meals, such as preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and artificial colors and flavors. Examples of UPFs include carbonated drinks, confectionery, sausages, biscuits, and breakfast cereals. The consumption of UPFs has been linked to an increased risk of obesity.

The study aimed to investigate the association between UPF consumption and the risk of developing head, neck, and esophageal cancers, as well as the role of obesity in this relationship. The researchers analyzed data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, which involved 450,111 participants from 10 European countries. The participants were followed for almost 14 years, with the majority being between 35 and 69 years old at recruitment.

The UPFs consumed by the participants included carbonated and non-carbonated sugary drinks, ultra-processed dairy products, ultra-processed bread, and ultra-processed meats. Over the course of the study, there were 910 incident cases of head and neck cancer and 215 cases of esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The analysis revealed that a 10% increase in UPF consumption was associated with a 23% higher risk of head and neck cancer and a 24% higher risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma. Interestingly, the researchers found that increased body fat explained only a small proportion of the statistical association between UPF consumption and the risk of these cancers. This suggests that other factors, such as the use of emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners, as well as contaminants from food packaging and the manufacturing process, may be involved.

However, the researchers caution that their findings may be affected by certain types of bias. They also noted a peculiar association between increased UPF consumption and a higher risk of accidental death, which requires further investigation.

While the study highlights the negative health outcomes associated with UPFs, it is still unclear whether these foods directly cause cancer or if other underlying factors, such as overall health-related behaviors and socioeconomic status, are responsible for the link. The researchers suggest that focusing solely on weight loss treatments may not effectively prevent cancers related to UPF consumption and that further research is needed to identify other mechanisms that contribute to this risk.

Additionally, they recommend conducting studies with long-term dietary assessments and considering contemporary consumption habits in order to replicate their findings. The EPIC study collected dietary data in the 1990s when UPF consumption was relatively low, so it is possible that the association might be stronger in cohorts with more recent dietary follow-up assessments.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it