Recent research by the University of Oxford has shown that eating meat and dairy products may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Diets high in meat, especially red and processed meat, raises levels of a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) which promotes cell growth – cancer is a disease where cell growth has become uncontrollable without drastic action, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that men with high blood levels of IGF-1 had a 40% higher chance of developing prostate cancer. This hormone, although essential for growth, can also inhibit the death of cells which have come to the end of their natural life cycle.
Dr Andrew Roddam who lead the research admitted that the extent of its effect is still unclear, but studies so far have shown that levels are up to 15% higher in people who consume lots of meat and dairy products. He also said that there is a need to identify risk factors for prostate cancer, especially those which can be targeted by therapy and/or lifestyle changes.
“Now we know this factor is associated with the disease we can start to examine how diet and lifestyle factors can affect its levels and whether changes could reduce a man’s risk.” Dr Andrew Roddam, 2008.
Although the studies looked at prostate cancer, all forms of cancer could be affected, as they are all caused by malfunctioning cell growth in the body. Prostate cancer proves fatal in approximately 30% of cases, and every year more than 34,000 UK men are diagnosed with it.
“While there are established risk factors associated with prostate cancer of age, family history, and ethnicity, there are no clear data on modifiable risk factors.” Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK. More research is needed, however, before this can be translated into useful advice for men on which foods may need to be modified in their diet.”
A couple of months ago we were reminded of the increased colon cancer risk when consuming high amounts of processed meat. Red meat, and possibly dairy too, are certainly not healthy when consumed in large quantities. Some red meat is healthy, as it is a great source of iron and protein, but when eaten in excess, it can lead to far greater problems. As with all dietary advice, moderation is the key. Avoid processed meats, and limit red meat to once or twice a week. Consume more chicken, fish and vegetable options for a well balanced diet.