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Study with over 300,000 women links meat and dairy products to a 12 percent increased risk of breast cancer

A new study of over 300,000 female participants found that diets high in meat, dairy products, and processed sugar increased the relative risk of breast cancer by up to 12 percent. Joint research by the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the World Health Organization and Imperial College London concluded that the inflammatory properties of these foods caused this increase in cancer risk.

Food, inflammation and disease

Chronic inflammation is the precursor to many serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Certain foods – including meat, dairy products, and processed sugars – have been shown to increase inflammation in the body. When certain foods are consumed regularly, the temporary (acute) inflammation caused by those foods can become chronic and create an excellent environment for cancer to develop.

The researchers collected food frequency surveys from the 318,686 female participants for a year. The inflammatory nature of any diet was determined by the frequency of certain foods. Diets high in meat, butter, margarine, frying oil, and processed sugar have been flagged as flammable. Researchers found that participants who ate the most highly inflammatory foods increased their relative risk of breast cancer by more than 12 percent.

Lifestyle over nutrients

Rather than focusing on a specific nutrient – like saturated fat – as previous research has done, this study looked at diet patterns. The goal was not to stir up fear of individual nutrients, but rather to steer the conversation towards a change of habit.

“Humans consume food, not nutrients, so studying general dietary patterns – rather than individual components of the diet – can lead to more accurate conclusions when analyzing associations with a health outcome such as breast cancer,” Carlotta Castro-Espin of the Catalan Institute of Oncology said the author of the study.

Plant-based diets have been linked to lowering cancer risk as well as lowering inflammation levels. Researchers point to the high levels of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to explain the anti-inflammatory properties of whole, plant-based foods. Compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is rich in animal products, a wholesome, plant-based diet contains 64 times the amount of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.

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