High consumption of ultra-processed foods increases risk of colorectal cancer in men

By Arya M Nair, Intern Reporter
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High consumption of pre-cooked and instant meals links to an increased risk of colorectal cancer in men, said researchers at Tufts University and Harvard University.

Researchers found that men who consumed high rates of ultra-processed foods were at 29 percent higher risk for developing colorectal cancer, the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States, than men who consumed much smaller amounts. They did not find the same association in women.

The study analyzed responses from 206,000 participants, 159,907 women and 46,341 men, across three large prospective studies which assessed dietary intake and were conducted over more than 25 years. Each participant was provided with a food frequency questionnaire every four years and asked about the frequency of consumption of roughly 130 foods.

The analyses revealed differences in the ways that men and women consume ultra-processed foods and the prospective associated cancer risk. The team found the strongest association between colorectal cancer and ultra-processed foods among men comes from meat, poultry, or fish-based, ready-to-eat products. “These products include some processed meats like sausages, bacon, ham, and fish cakes. This is consistent with our hypothesis,” said Ms. Lu Wang, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.

The team also found higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, fruit-based beverages, and sugary milk-based beverages, is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in men.

“We started out thinking that colorectal cancer could be cancer most impacted by diet compared to other cancer types. Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a strong risk factor for colorectal cancer. Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for colorectal cancer,” Ms. Wang added.

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