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VEGETARIAN DIET HELPS
IN THE PREVENTION OF CANCER

People who eat vegetarian or near vegetarian diets have the lowest rates of cancer inthe world. A vegetarian diet comes closest to the dietary guidelines for reduction ofcancer set forth by the National Cancer Institute of USA which estimates that one third ofall cancer deaths in USA and eight out of ten of all cancers are related to diet.According to some estimates about 30%-40% of cancers in men and up to 60% of cancers inwomen are due to dietary factors (Bayer and Gragam, 1984).

Surveys have revealed that Asians and Africans have much lower incidence of breastcancer than Europeans and Americans who consume Western type diets. There is evidence toshow that vegetarian diets protest against breast cancer because -

i. Vegetarians have lower levels of blood oestrogens hormones that raise the risk ofbreast cancer (B.K. Armstrong et al 1990).

ii. Vegetarians begin menstruation somewhat later than average and there is a longertime between periods. Dietary fat shortens the menstrual cycle while fibre increases it(Cassidy et al 1990)

iii. Soyafood consumption can block the activity of oestrogens and soya beans containchemicals called isoflavones which act against cancer.

In Haryana it has been observed that daily consumption of green and yellow vegetablesrich in beta carotene, vit C, calcium and dietary fibre lowers the risk of cancer. Therehas been shown a strong relationship between animal protein intake and breast cancer(Graham et al, American Journal of Epidemiology, 1991).

Colon cancer

Diet is more strongly linked to colon cancer than to any other type of cancer andvegetarians are less liable to get this disease. .

In vegetarians unlike in meat eaters colon cells are much less active (The more thecolon cells divide the greater the risk of cancer). Secondary bile acids which arecarcinogenic are more in omnivores compared to vegetarians. Vegetarians have fewer of thebacteria that convert the harmless bile acids into ones that are carcinogenic compared tonon vegetarians.

Vegetarians have lower levels of faecal enzymes that enhance the absorption ofcarcinogens (VG Aries et al, J. Pathology Vol. 103:1972).

Oesphagus and stomach

Although tobacco and alcohol intake are major risk factors for oesophageal cancer, lowintake of vitamin A and C are also associated with increased risk of this cancer. Lack ofconsumption of fruits and vegetables has been linked to cancer of oral cavity. Vegetarianshave higher blood levels of betacarotene which is thought to protect against cancer.Polyphenols prevent cancer of oesophagus and stomach and non vegetarian diets containpowerful carcinogens such as nitrosamines. Vitamin C found in fruit juices inhibit thesecarcinogens.

Cancer of prostrate

Among the men in the USA cancer of prostrate is the second most common malignancy andthis cancer is not common among Seventh Day Adventist men as compared to generalpopulation, suggesting that vegetarianism is the protective factor (American Journal ofClinical Nutrition, 1994). High fibre intake decreases the risk of prostrate cancer andhigh fat intake raises the risk (cancer, Vol. 58, 1986)

Other cancers

Low fat diets have been shown to reduce the occurrence of non-melanoma skin cancer.

In a Japanese study of 122,000 people, meat intake increased the lung cancer risk inpeople who smoked. Higher blood levels of beta carotene is thought to protect against lungcancer.

Cancer of tests and ovaries have been found to be more common among people who consumelarge quantities of fat.

High consumption of soya-based products, dried fruit, beans, lentils (dhal) and peashas been associated with lower risk of cancer of the pancreas. Risk of bladder cancer isassociated with high meat intake (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994).

There is evidence, to show that 'increasing use of meat, poultry or fish is associatedwith increased risk estimates for gliomas (cancer of brain).' This increased risk isespecially apparent for consumption of pork products as many pork products are cured withsodium-nitrite (P.K. Mills et al, Neuroepidemiology Vol. 8, 1989).

Cancer protection diet includes less fat and more fruit especially citrus fruits,increased intake of vegetables especially those rich in carotene, and dark greenvegetables such as cabbage, spinach and cauliflower, increased intake of whole graincereals and less of salt, cured, smoked and pickled food. Consumption of fibre should beincreased. Animal protein should be substituted by vegetable proteins.

Written by: Dr. D.P. Atukorale


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