Eating meat five times or less per week is associated with a lower overall cancer risk, according to a study published online Feb. 24 in BMC Medicine.
Cody Z. Watling, from University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues used data from 472,377 U.K. Biobank participants to assess the associations between vegetarian and nonvegetarian diets with the risks for all cancer, colorectal cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and prostate cancer during an average follow-up of 11.4 years.
The researchers found that compared with being a regular meat eater, being a low meat eater (hazard ratio [HR], 0.98; 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.96 to 1.00), fish eater (HR, 0.90; 95 percent CI, 0.84 to 0.96), or vegetarian (HR, 0.86; 95 percent CI, 0.80 to 0.93) was associated with a lower risk for all cancer. Being a low meat eater was associated with a lower risk for colorectal cancer versus being a regular meat eater (HR, 0.91); however, there was variance by sex, with an inverse association across diet groups in men, but not in women. There was a lower risk for breast cancer among vegetarian postmenopausal women (HR, 0.82; 95 percent CI, 0.68 to 0.99), but this finding became nonsignificant when adjusting for body mass index (HR, 0.87; 95 percent CI, 0.72 to 1.05). Being a fish eater or a vegetarian was associated with a lower risk for prostate cancer in men (HRs, 0.80 and 0.69, respectively).
“Future research assessing cancer risk in cohorts with [a] large number of vegetarians is needed to provide more precise estimates of the associations and to explore other possible mechanisms or explanations for the observed differences,” the authors write.
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