How can ultra-processed foods affect our health according to studies?

Eating a balanced diet consisting of healthy, natural foods has long been touted for longer life and reducing the chances of developing adverse health effects, including cancer. Another study reaffirms the idea that reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods is a step in the right direction.

Study of UK Biobank records on more than 197,000 people in the last decade, almost 55 percent of them women, researchers found that eating increasing proportions of these highly processed foods increased the risk of developing and dying from cancer. This latest study showed that the risk for UK participants persisted even after “a range of socio-demographic, smoking status, physical activity and key dietary factors” were taken into account.

UK Eating Habits, where more than half of the daily calorie intake consists of ultra-processed foods, are not disposable. Their eating habits correspond to those of people in the United States and global dietary patterns are becoming “increasingly dominated by relatively cheap, highly palatable and ready-to-eat ultra-processed foods.”

Increased consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with increased cancer development

The study, conducted by researchers from the National Institute for Health and Care Research at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, monitored the participants’ health over the past decade. They looked at the risk of developing cancer in general and specifically the risk of developing 34 types of cancer. Researchers also study the risk of people dying from cancer.

The results show that a greater risk of developing cancer in general is associated with a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods. Two that stood out were ovarian and brain cancer. The risk of mortality is increased especially in ovarian and breast cancer.

According to the study, which was published in eClinicalMedicine, in collaboration with researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the University of São Paulo and NOVA University of Lisbon, for every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food consumption, there was a 2 percent increase in the development of cancer overall. In the case of ovarian cancer, the diagnosis rate rises to 19 percent.

All-cancer mortality was 6 percent associated with every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food consumed. specifically, the risk of death from breast cancer was 16 percent and ovarian cancer 30 percent.

Scientists discuss their results

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively affect our health, including our risk of cancer. Given the high levels of consumption among adults and children in the UK, this has important implications for future health outcomes,” Dr. Esther Vamos, lead senior author of the study, said in a statement.

“Although our study cannot prove a causal relationship, other available evidence suggests that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet can provide important health benefits. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diet.

While this latest study may not be able to prove causation, other studies show that ultra-processed foods, which are usually higher in salt, fat, sugar and contain artificial additives are linked to a number of poor health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

One such study began in 2009, when more and more patients under the age of 50 were being treated for colorectal cancer. While more research is needed, the results show a pattern that repeats itself among patients.

“Our bodies may not respond the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods.” said Dr Kiara Chang, first author of the recent Imperial College study. “However, ultra-processed foods are everywhere and are widely marketed at low prices and attractive packaging to encourage consumption. This shows that our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from over-processed foods.

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