NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 20, 2009

A team of U.K. researchers published the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  In an analysis of 52,700 men and women, divided into meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans, it was found that the fish eaters and vegetarians had far fewer cancers than those who ate meat.

The researchers were surprised to find that the vegetarians were found to have significantly higher rates of colorectal cancer than the meat eaters.  The finding is confusing because previous research links eating large amounts of red meat with the disease.

Other results:

  • In the group of men and women aged 20 to 89, who were recruited in the 1990s, vegetarians showed an 11 percent lower rate of all cancers when compared to meat eaters (adjustments were made for age, sex and smoking status).
  • For colorectal cancer, however, vegetarians showed a 39 percent higher rate compared with meat eaters.

Study leader Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research U.K. epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said no previous study had looked at diet in this way and there had been a lot of confusion about the issue.

"It's interesting -- it suggests there might be some reduction in cancers in vegetarians and fish-eaters and we need to look carefully at that."

He added: "It doesn't support the idea that vegetarians would have lower rates of colorectal cancer and I think it means we need to think more carefully about how meat fits into it."

More work is needed to unpick the links between diet and cancer but such studies are incredibly hard to do, he said.

Source: Cara McDonough, "Eat Only Veggies and Avoid Cancer, Says New Study," BBC, March 17, 2009.

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