Friday, July 03, 2009

vegetarians less cancerous than meat eaters

Guardian | For years, they have boasted of the health benefits of their leafy diets, but now vegetarians have the proof that has so far eluded them: when it comes to cancer risks, they have the edge on carnivores.

Fresh evidence from the largest study to date to investigate dietary habits and cancer has concluded that vegetarians are 45% less likely to develop cancer of the blood than meat eaters and are 12% less likely to develop cancer overall.

Scientists said that while links between stomach cancer and eating meat had already been reported, they had uncovered a "striking difference" in the risk of blood cancers including leukaemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma between the groups. The study looked at vegetarians, fish eaters and people who ate meat.

Co-author Naomi Allen, from the Cancer Research UK epidemiology unit at Oxford University, said: "Previous research has found that processed meat may increase the risk of stomach cancer, so our findings that vegetarians and fish eaters are at lower risk is plausible. But we do not know why cancer of the blood is lower in vegetarians."

She said the differences in cancer risks were independent of other lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol intake and obesity.

However, Allen urged caution over the interpretation of the findings. "It is a significant difference, but we should be a bit cautious since it is the first study showing that the risk of cancer of the blood is lower in vegetarians. We need to know what aspect of a fish and vegetarian diet is protecting against cancer. Is it the higher fibre intake, higher intake of fruit and vegetables, is it just meat per se?"

The study also reported that the total cancer incidence was significantly lower among both the fish eaters and the vegetarians compared with meat eaters.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, is part of a long-term international study, the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (Epic).

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