There is a growing body of literature that shows the damage that carbohydrates can have on our bodies, especially when overconsumed. There is growing concern that it is sugar and carbohydrates that have actually driven the increasing obesity levels in Western countries. This is in stark contrasting to the previous sentiment that fat was the culprit and the implications are tremendous. Carbohydrates are so heavy in many foods, particularly processed foods where high fructose corn syrup is often one of the top three ingredients. Now, research suggests that the detriment of carbohydrates extends beyond just metabolic diseases into potentially cancer risk as well.
A new study shows that people who consumed sugar drinks like soda or even juices had a rate of prostate cancer almost three times that of those who did not drink the same sugary liquids. Furthermore, people who ate processed lunch foods including pizza, burgers, and processed meat had twice the prostate cancer risk as those who did not. People who ate lean meats and healthy carbohydrates like vegetables and legumes, on the other hand, had a much lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not eat these nutritious foods.
NourMakarem, the lead author on the new study, explains that they looked at health records for 3,100 volunteers who offered up information beginning in the early 1970s. Diets began to be tracked in 1991. Makarem and her colleagues looked at the glycemic indices of the foods that were in the diets and used this to calculate the glycemic load in people’s diets. They then look at the retrospective data on cancer in the same patients and were able to assess potential associations between diet and cancer incidence.
The results showed very strong correlations. It should be stressed that this type of retrospective data research while growing in popularity, does have its limitations. In the end, it is only an association that can be drawn and not a causal conclusion. That being said, however, strong associations often have some underlying scientific mechanisms and in this case, the study is hypothesis-generating. Future research including randomized clinical trials (if possible and ethical) should be done to look at the impact that diet and carbs have on cancer risk. One of the other major limitations of the Makarem study was that the vast majority of patients were Caucasian.
Cancer is a very complicated set of diseases and the causes for each type are multifactorial. That being said, certain things seem to really drive the incidence up and trying to adjust our lives to avoid these risks may make sense in the overall assessment of our health prospects. Considering the synergies in avoiding the risk of other metabolic diseases by avoiding too many and bad carbs, it makes sense to cut back. When it comes to the metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, there are many studies that show causal relationships between carbohydrate consumption and the development of disease, so it is wise to cut back even if the cancer hypothesis turns out not to be true.
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