For cancer-free living, meat and dairy-free dining are the way to go, it seems. A new study funded by the National Cancer Institute found vegans have even lower cancer rates than vegetarian counterparts, who in turn see less cancer than omnivores.
“Most people think they are a victim of their genes, helpless to stave off some of the most dreaded diseases,” , writes Kathy Freston at HuffPost Healthy Living. “We aren’t helpless at all; in fact, the power is largely in our hands. It’s on our forks, actually.”
Studies that link eating right to fighting cancer are nothing new, and many have suggested that vegetarianism is the answer. A major 2012 analysis of previous studies on vegetarianism and cancer concluded that adopting a meatless diet can significantly lower cancer risk “the incidence of all cancers combined is lower among vegetarians,” it said).
But this new study, out of Loma Linda University, took things a step further by focusing on veganism. Guess what? After controlling for non-dietary factors such as smoking and family history, vegans showed lower overall rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians
Vegan women had a 34% less chance of getting female-specific cancers such as breast, cervical and ovarian cancer than did meat-eating women. There was also significantly less gastrointestinal tract cancer in vegetarian and vegan dieters.
What gives? The protection is likely from changes in vegetarians’ and vegans’ levels of the growth hormone IGF-1, notes Freston. Eating animal protein increases our body’s level of IGF-1, while a plant-based diet causes levels of this cancer-promoting hormone to drop.
“This makes sense when you consider the research done by Drs. Dean Ornish and Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn,” writes Freston. “They found that a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in only three months.”
It also makes sense in light of The China Study (the terribly dull to read but terribly important study and accompanying book) and other work from nutrition and disease researcher T. Colin Campbell, who spent many years looking at the effect of dietary protein on disease development. In different study set-ups and arrangements, the results were always the same: High intake of animal protein (i.e. meat, eggs, milk) led to more and faster-developing cancerous tumors.
In one rat study of Campbell’s, animals were given a diet of either 5%, 12% or 20% protein and followed for about 100 weeks. The less protein a group was fed, the less severe and prevalent were cancerous tumors. Animals fed the highest-protein diet and then switched to a 5% protein diet saw tumors forming rapidly, followed by a slowing or even shutting down of tumor formation. At the end of the study period, all of the rats given 5% protein were alive and healthy and all of the animals on the 20% protein diet had died of liver cancer.