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Vegan women have 34% lower risk of breast, ovarian, uterine cancers

Posted Dec 17 2012 12:00am
A plant-based diet cuts cancer risk. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Good news for vegans and vegetarians! A new study shows that plant-based diets offer significant protection from various cancers. The study reveals benefits for vegetarians, but the strongest benefits for vegans.

In the US as a whole, cancer is the second leading cause of death. It's been known for some time that dietary factors account for at least 30% of all cancers in Western countries. That's scary! But it's also empowering. We can choose what we eat, and this new study gives us more evidence that plant-based diets are safest.

In the new study, researchers at Loma Linda University tracked the diets of 69,120 people over a period of four years - that's a big study and a lot of data! Their results were published Nov 20 2012 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers categorized the participants into five groups based on their diets: nonvegetarian, semivegetarians, lacto-vegetarians (consume dairy products and eggs), pesco-vegetarians (consume dairy, eggs, and fish),and vegans. They tracked the diets and the health of the subjects over the course of the four-year study. During that time, cancer developed in 2,939 of the participants being tracked. The researchers then analyzed which of the five diet groups developed which cancers.

Their conclusions

  • The overall cancer risk was less among vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians, for both genders.
  • The lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets seemed to confer protection from cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (but apparently not other cancers).
  • Vegan diets seemed to lower the risk of cancer overall for both genders, and for female-specific cancer compared to other dietary patterns.

The most significant finding

Vegans had a 16 percent decreased risk of all cancers in the study, and vegan women had a 34 percent decreased risk for other specific cancers including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers, compared with nonvegetarians.

Improved health is a big reason to stick to plants

A 34 percent reduced risk for breast, ovarian and uterine cancers is huge! I'll take it! The 16% overall risk reduction for cancer is impressive too. But health advantages to vegans include much more than cancer protection. There's also the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Those are big incentives for me to keep my diet plant-based.

Eco and animal benefits are huge too

Even bigger considerations for me? Our ailing planet, and all the living beings on this planet. The livestock industry generates as much as half of all greenhouse gases worldwide, so is a major contributor to climate change. And we're all aware of the humane issues, which include the plight of animals on factory farms as well as the loss of wildlife whose habitat is destroyed to grow crops for livestock. If you want to know more about all these matters - health, planet, animals - check out our investigations in our last two books, and (co-authored with my daughter Sadie). Diet can be a pretty easy choice!

The publication about cancer risk and diet

Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published ahead of print Nov. 20, 2012.
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