Ultra-processed foods linked to ovarian and other cancer deaths, study finds
(CNN) — Eating more ultra-processed foods increases the risk of developing and dying from cancer, especially ovarian cancer, according to a new study of more than 197,000 people in the UK, more than half of whom were women.
Excessively processed foods include soups, sauces, frozen pizzas, and prepackaged ready meals, as well as hot dogs, sausages, French fries, sodas, cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, ice cream, and many more.
“Ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life,” said first author Dr. Kiara Chang, member of the National Institute for Health and Care Research at Imperial College London School of Public Health, in a statement.
“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh, nutritious, minimally processed foods,” Chang said.
However, people who eat more ultra-processed foods also tend to “drink more soft drinks and less tea and coffee, as well as fewer vegetables and other foods associated with a healthy dietary pattern,” said Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior fellow professor at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK, in an email.
“This could mean that it may not be a specific effect of the ultra-processed foods themselves, but instead reflects the impact of lower intake of healthier foods,” said Mellor, who was not involved in the study.
Risk increases with consumption
The study, published Tuesday in the journal eClinicalMedicine, looked at the association between eating ultra-processed foods and 34 different types of cancer over a 10-year period.
The researchers examined information on the dietary habits of 197,426 people who were part of the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource housing detailed health and genetic information, between 2006 and 2010.
The amount of ultra-processed foods consumed by people in the study ranged from a low of 9.1% to a high of 41.4% of their diet, the study found.
The eating patterns were then compared to medical records listing both cancer diagnoses and deaths.
Each 10% increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a 2% increase in the development of any type of cancer and a 19% increase in the risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to a statement issued by the Imperial College London.
Cancer deaths also increased, the study found. For every additional 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods, the risk of dying from any type of cancer increased by 6%, while the risk of dying from ovarian cancer increased by 30%, according to the statement.
“These associations persisted after adjusting for a variety of sociodemographic factors, smoking, physical activity, and key dietary factors,” the authors wrote.
When it comes to cancer deaths among women, ovarian cancer ranks fifth, “accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system,” noted the Samerican cancer society.
“The findings add to previous studies showing an association between a higher proportion of ultra-processed foods (UPF) in the diet and increased risk of obesity, heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes,” said Simon Steenson, nutrition scientist. from the British Nutrition Foundation, a charity partly supported by food producers and manufacturers. Steenson was not involved in the new study.
“However, a major limitation of these previous studies and the new analysis published today is that the findings are observational and therefore do not provide evidence of a clear causal link between FFUs and cancer, or the risk of other diseases.” “Steenson said in an email.
People who ate the most ultra-processed foods “were younger and less likely to have a family history of cancer,” Chang and his colleagues wrote.
Heavy consumers of ultra-processed foods were less likely to be physically active and more likely to be classified as obese. These people were also likely to have lower household income and education and to live in the most disadvantaged communities, the study found.
“This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to have a negative impact on our health, including our risk of cancer,” said Dr. Eszter Vamos, the study’s lead author and a senior clinical professor at the School for Public Health at Imperial College London in a statement.
This latest research is not the first to show an association between a high intake of ultra-processed foods and cancer.
A 2022 study examined the diets of more than 200,000 men and women in the United States for up to 28 years and found a link between ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer —the third most diagnosed cancer in the US.— in men, but not in women.
And there are “literally hundreds of studies (that) link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality,” Marion Nestle, professor of sociology and Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, previously told CNN. and Public Health from New York University.
While the new UK-based study cannot prove cause-and-effect, only an association, “other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diets could provide important health benefits,” Vamos said.
“More research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the pervasive presence and harm of ultra-processed foods in our diets,” he added.