High Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods May Increase Risk of Cancer

Consuming high amounts of ultra-process foods (UPFs) might be associated with increased risks of developing and dying from cancers, according to a study conducted by the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. The study was published in eClinical Medicine.

UPFs are made by adding additives such as salt, oil, or sugar to unprocessed or minimally processed foods. For example, French fries are a UPF that is derived from the minimally processed food that are potatoes. These foods are often cheap and convenient and may even be marketed as a healthy option. It’s been previously documented that UPFs are linked to conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers conducted a prospective cohort study of the UK Biobank of 197,426 individuals aged 40-69 years. They analyzed patient records to collect information regarding dietary intakes and overall health. Specifically, the researchers looked investigated the risk of developing 34 types of cancer and the risk of dying from these cancers.

Over the course of the study period, more than 15,000 individuals developed cancers. Of these individuals, 4,009 died from cancer-related causes. “Every 10 percentage points increment in UPF consumption was associated with an increased incidence of overall and specifically ovarian cancer,” the authors of the study wrote.

Additionally, the researchers noted that, “every 10 percentage points increment in UPF consumption was associated with an increased risk of overall, ovarian, and breast cancer-related mortality.”

Eszter Vamos, PhD, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Public Health Medicine at Imperial College London and senior author of the study stated in a press release, “This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health including our risk for cancer.”

Dr. Vamos went on to remark: “Although our study cannot prove causation, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet could provide important health benefits. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diet.”