Following Lifestyle Recommendations Reduces Risk of Cancer Death

People who follow the diet and lifestyle recommendations laid out by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) have a 34 percent reduced risk of dying from several diseases and specifically, a 20 percent reduced risk of dying from cancer compared to people who don’t follow the recommendations, according to the results of a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In 2007, the WCRF and the AICR issued recommendations on diet, physical activity, and weight management for cancer prevention on the basis of the most comprehensive collection of available evidence. The 10 recommendations are as follows:

  • Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight.
  • Be physically active as part of everyday life.
  • Limit consumption of energy-dense foods. Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Eat mostly foods of plant origin.
  • Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat.
  • Limit alcoholic drinks.
  • Limit consumption of salt. Avoid moldy grains or legumes.
  • Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone (by avoiding supplements).
  • Mothers to breastfeed; children to be breastfed.
  • Follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. 

In order to determine whether these recommendations were associated with a reduced risk of death, researchers conducted a study to investigate 378,864 people in nine European countries enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. Over a period of 12 years, researchers examined the subjects’ diet and lifestyle to see how closely they complied with six or seven (for women) of the ten recommendations: body fat, physical activity, consumption of foods and drinks that promote weight gain, consumption of plant foods, meat, alcoholic drinks and breastfeeding. Participants were given a score from 0 to 6 (or 7 for women); higher scores indicated greater compliance with the recommendations.

They then compared the group of participants with the strongest adherence to the guidelines to those with the weakest adherence to calculate the level of risk reduction that would come from compliance with the recommendations. When compared to the group with the lowest level of compliance, those who most closely followed the WCRF/AICR recommendations had a 34 percent reduced risk of death overall—and specifically, a 50 percent reduced risk of dying from respiratory disease, 44 percent reduced risk of dying from circulatory disease, and a 20 percent reduced risk of dying from cancer.

Being lean and eating foods mostly of plant origin appeared to have the greatest impact on reducing the risk of death from disease. Limiting alcohol consumption and eating mostly plant foods had the greatest impact on reducing the risk of cancer death. Women who breastfed for at least six months had a reduced risk of death from cancer and circulatory disease.

The researchers concluded that following the WCRF/AICR lifestyle recommendations could reduce the risk of cancer death and death from other diseases.

Reference:

Vergnaud AC, Romaquera D, Peeters PH, et al. Adherence to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines and risk of death in Europe: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Nutrition and Cancer cohort study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published early online April 3, 2013. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.11

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