Treat nutrition and cancer research cautiously: study

A vegetable seller waits for customers in her stall at a market in central Beijing June 1, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray

A vegetable seller waits for customers in her stall at a market in central Beijing June 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

By Genevra Pittman

(Reuters Health) – Studies suggesting that everything from cinnamon to lobster either raises or lowers a person’s risk of cancer may sometimes be a bunch of baloney, a new report suggests.

Researchers created a list of 50 random food items, then found studies from the last 35 years that claimed risks or benefits for the majority them. But most of the claims were based on weak evidence.

“We have seen a very large number of studies, just too many studies, suggesting that they had identified associations with specific food ingredients with cancer risk,” said Dr. John Ioannidis from the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, who worked on the analysis.

“People get scared or they think that they should change their lives and make big decisions, and then things get refuted very quickly,” he told Reuters Health.

That back-and-forth can distract the public from associations that do have solid evidence behind them, such as the increased cancer risk tied to smoking or the beneficial effects of fruits and vegetables, he said.

“There’s very strong evidence, and pretty strong expectation, that some nutrients in some foods would be related to cancer risk – either protecting or increasing the risk – but it’s very hard to believe that almost anything would be associated with cancer,” Ioannidis added.

For their study, he and Dr. Jonathan Schoenfeld from Harvard Medical School in Boston selected the first 50 ingredients they found in randomly-chosen cookbook recipes.

That list included meats and fish, vegetables, dairy products, bread and spices.

The researchers then ran each ingredient through a medical journal database search to see if there were any studies tying how much of it people consumed to their risk for some type of cancer.

For 40 out of the 50 ingredients – including veal, celery, cheese and mustard – there were a total of 264 such studies. Of those, 103 suggested the ingredient was tied to an increased risk of cancer, and 88 to a decreased risk.

To read the full article click here: Treat nutrition and cancer research cautiously: study

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