Food is an important factor in determining cancer incidence. Generally, vegetables rich in antioxidants and fibers tend to reduce the development of cancer, while fat-rich food may be associated with increases in breast, colon and prostate cancers. Otherfactors. such as asedentarylifestyle and highcaloriediet, are also associated with the development of cancer.

A major new study that tracked the diets and disease rates of nearly 380,000 people over 13 years, shows that individuals who closely followed seven simple lifestyle recommendations made by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) cut their risk of dying from all diseases ? including cancer, circulatory disease and respiratory disease – by 34%, compared to those who did not follow the recommendations.

The study, published in the March 27 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used data from the EuropeanProspective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC Project). TheEPIC projectwasdesigned to investigate the relationships between diet, nutritional status, lifestyle and environmental factors and the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases. Having recruited over half a million (520,000) people in ten European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) EPICis one of world’s the largest study of diet, lifestyle and health ever undertaken.

Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, Ph.D, RD, MpH, (Photo) welcomed the new study results. “We’ve known for years that following AICR’s lifestyle advice could cut the worldwide incidence of cancer cases by about one-third,” she said. “Today we have evidence on mortality, which shows that this same practical advice could also save millions of lives from cancer and other chronic diseases around the world.”

The recommendations associated with the greatest reduction in risk of death had to do with avoiding overweight and obesity (22% lower risk) and eating a plant-based diet (21% lower risk).

Assigning a Score
The lifestyle recommendations examined in the AJCN study were developed by AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) for the expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective.

For the purposes of the study, researchers looked at seven of the ten AICR/WCRF Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. Researchers developed a scoring system to reflect how closely the study’s participants were following these seven AICR/WCRF recommendations:

  • Stay as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  • Be active for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks.
  • Eat a plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
  • Limit intake of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and avoid processed meat (ham, cold cuts, bacon, sausage).
  • If you consume alcohol, limit yourself to one drink/day for women, two drinks/day for men.
  • (WOMEN ONLY) Breastfeed your children exclusively for the first six months.

Following each one of the recommendations studied was associated with lowering risk for death.

Body Fat
Having a healthy body-mass index (BMI) in the lower range (indicative of low body fat) reduced the likelihood of dying from any disease by 22% compared to those with the highest BMI.

Physical Activity
Being active for at least 30 minutes a day reduced the risk of death from all diseases by 15% compared to those who were inactive.

Calorie-Dense Foods and Drinks
Avoiding sugary drinks and foods that promote weight gain reduced the risk of death by 9% compared to those who consumed these foods in high amounts.

Plant-Based Diet
Along with staying lean, eating a plant-based diet emerged as one the most powerfully protective factors in the study, with diets high in plant foods (at least five servings per day) reducing the risk of dying from any disease by 21% compared to those who ate the least.

Red and Processed Meat
Not independently associated with any one cause of death, but low intake was associated with the overall 34% lower risk of all-cause mortality observed in the study.

Alcohol
Following the recommendation to limit alcohol consumption reduced risk of death from cancer by 21%, and overall risk of death from all diseases by 8%.

Breastfeeding
The AICR/WCRF expert report was the first to issue a recommendation on breastfeeding for cancer prevention, and this new study was the first to apply that recommendation to mortality. Women who breastfeed their children have a 17%reduced risk for death from all diseases compared to women who do not.

Recommendations Make A Real-World Difference
“Following any one of our recommendations offers some protection from cancer, chronic disease and early death, but your overall lifestyle is key ? making these healthy choices most of the time,” said Alice Bender, MS, RD, (Photo) AICR’s Nutrition Advisor.

“This latest study confirms that AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention outline an overall approach to diet, weight and physical activity that offers powerful protection,” she continued, “but it also shows that public health efforts to improve school lunches, increase physical activity, support breastfeeding and restrict alcohol consumption make a measurable savings in human lives.”

For more information

Margetts BM. Nutrient intake and patterns in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohorts from 10 European countries European journal of clinical nutrition. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009Nov;63 Suppl 4:S1-2. doi: 10.1038/ejcn. 2009 .122.[Abstract][Full Article]

Photos courtesy American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)

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