Ovarian cancer risk from food

June 18, 2008

There is news this month of a surprising finding from the results of an eleven year study on diet and cancer occurrence in the Netherlands. This was a long-term study of nearly 63,000 women who faithfully filled in dietary questionnaires for the whole of that period and what researchers found was a link between a greatly increased risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers with certain dietary habits.

The ‘guilty party’ is Acrylamide, which is a chemical produced when starchy foods like potatoes are baked, fried or roasted, but does not occur with boiling. It was first detected in food in 2002; prior to that, acrylamide was believed to be a solely industrial chemical and a number of previous studies have implicated it as a carcinogen.

Unusually, the problem is compounded if the women had never smoked as statistically the non-smokers from the women in the study were even more susceptible. They had a 99 percent higher risk of endometrial cancer and a 122 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer among those with the highest acrylamide intake. By contrast, the smokers had a 29 percent higher risk of endometrial cancer and a 78 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer, though why this should be the case the research hasn’t yet thrown up.

While some scientists have hypothesized that the human body may detoxify acrylamide when it is ingested in food, or that human intake is too low to pose health risks, the current study suggests that even at dietary doses, acrylamide is a human carcinogen.

What can you do? As ever, balance is the answer. If it is frying, baking and roasting are the culprits then reduce the amount of times you have potatoes, or other starchy foods, done in this way. Enjoy your new potatoes steamed or boiled with some herb butter and keep the roasties and chips to an occasional treat.


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