Please consider supporting DiscoverMedNews

Article

Association between the ultra-processed foods and risk of colorectal cancer is gender-specific

Apr 12, 2023 | Other Medical Disciplines

Colorectal cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer among both genders and the second leading cause of cancer death in the world. The ultra-processed foods (industrial ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat formulations made with little or no whole foods) usually contain food additives such as emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners. Researchers from the United States, Brazil, and Canada investigated the association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the increased risk of colorectal cancer in a prospective study with almost 30 years of follow-up.

The food additives can change the gut microbiota, promoting inflammation and carcinogenesis in the colon. In addition to additives, newly formed contaminants with carcinogenic potential (for example, acrylamide) are found in various ultra-processed products that have undergone heat treatment, specifically, French fries. Ultra-processed foods may also contain contaminants that migrate from plastic packaging, such as bisphenol-A, which the European Chemicals Agency considers “a substance of serious concern.”

About the study

This investigation included three large prospective cohorts with almost 30 years of follow-up. The Nurses’ Health Study included 121,700 registered female nurses aged 30 to 55 from 1976. The Nurses’ Health Study II enrolled 116,429 female nurses aged 25 to 42 from 1989, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study enrolled 51,529 male health professionals aged 40 to 75 from 1986. Initially and every two years thereafter, study participants were mailed a questionnaire collecting information about demographics, lifestyle, and health problems. The average follow-up rate was higher than 90% for all three cohorts.

Results

During 24 to 28 years of follow-up, 3216 cases of colorectal cancer (men, n=1294; women, n=1922) were identified.

The results showed a positive association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of colorectal cancer in men. The association was limited to distal colon cancer. These associations remained significant after adjustments for body mass index or indicators of nutritional quality of the diet. The ultra-processed food was associated with a higher risk of distal colon cancer independently of different dietary indices, such as the Western Dietary Pattern score, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 score, and specific food groups and nutrients associated with colorectal cancer risk. It shows that other attributes of ultra-processed foods beyond food quality are implicated in colorectal carcinogenesis.

No association was observed between the overall consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of colorectal cancer in women. 

Regarding the subgroups of ultra-processed foods, there was a positive association between colorectal cancer and higher consumption of ready-to-eat products made of meat, poultry, and seafood, including bacon, beef and pork hot dogs, chicken and turkey hot dogs, salami, bologna, processed meat sandwiches, processed meats, sausages, and breaded fish cakes/pieces/sticks. Additionally, there was a positive association between colorectal cancer and higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in men.

In women, a positive association was found between colorectal cancer and higher consumption of ready-to-eat/heat-mixed dishes, such as pizza, chowder, or cream soup, soup made with bouillon, ready-made soup from cans, and French fries. Importantly, a negative association was found between colorectal cancer and yogurt and dairy-based desserts in women.

Ultraprocessed bread and breakfast foods included breakfast bars, cold breakfast cereals, English muffins, bagels, rolls, rye, white bread, and whole grain bread. Packaged sweet snacks and desserts included readymade brownies, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pies, muffins or biscuits, sweet rolls, coffee cake, candy bars, chocolate bars, energy bars, high protein and low carbohydrate candy bars, apple sauce, jams, jellies, preserves, and honey.

Fats, condiments, and sauces included ketchup, red chili sauce, dressings, mayonnaise (regular and low-fat), salsa, margarine, butter spread, soy sauce, non-dairy coffee whitener, and cream cheese. Sugar or artificially sweetened beverages included caffeine-free Coke, Coke/Pepsi/Cola, dairy coffee drinks, Hawaiian punch, low-calorie soda, caffeine-free low-calorie soda, Pepsi, 7-up, other carbonated beverages, and other low-calorie Cola with caffeine. Packaged savory snacks included regular crackers, light fat-free crackers, and fat-free popcorn. Other ultra-processed foods included Nutrasweet or equivalent, other artificial sweeteners, and Splenda.

At the end of the study, the authors discussed the role of diet on the risk of colorectal cancer at specific anatomic subsites. They also analyzed differences between the sexes.

Conclusion

This investigation conducted on three large prospective cohorts with almost 30 years of follow-up demonstrated a positive association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of colorectal cancer in men. The association was limited to distal colon cancer. In women, a positive association was found between colorectal cancer and higher consumption of some subgroups of ultra-processed foods. These findings confirm that limitation of certain types of ultra-processed foods is important for public health.

The study findings were published in the British Medical Journal.

Journal Reference

Wang L. Et al. Association of ultra-processed food consumption with colorectal cancer risk among men and women: results from three prospective US cohort studies. BMJ 2022;378:e068921. (Open-Access)  http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-068921

Learn How to Go Paperless on PDFelement Wondershare EdrawMind