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Are Western Diets Contributing to Increased Cancer Rates?

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Thinking about starting a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet? Something as simple as a change in diet can have an impact on your cancer risk, said Gerald Krystal, Ph.D., a distinguished scientist at the British Columbia Cancer Research Center.

Krystal led research in mice that shows low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets have the ability to reduce the risk of cancer and slow the growth rate of tumors already present. The findings will be published in the July 1, 2011 edition of "Cancer Research", a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Many cancer patients are interested in making changes in areas that they can control, and this study definitely lends credence to the idea that a change in diet can be beneficial," said George Prendergast, Ph.D., CEO of the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, who was not involved with the study.

Krystal and colleagues conducted the study in mice, but agreed that the strong biological findings are definitive enough that an effect in humans can be considered.

In the study, mice were implanted with human tumor cells or mouse tumor cells and assigned to one of two diets. The first diet was a typical Western diet containing about 55 percent carbohydrate, 23 percent protein and 22 percent fat. The second diet was similar to the South Beach diet but with higher protein levels: 15 percent carbohydrate, 58 percent protein and 26 percent fat. The results showed the tumor cells grew consistently slower on the South Beach-like diet.

Mice genetically predisposed to breast cancer showed some of the most noteworthy results. Those who were on the Western diet developed breast cancer within their first year of life while the low-carb, high protein-fed mice did not. Only one mouse fed the Western diet reached a normal lifespan of approximately 2 years; 70 percent died prematurely from cancer. Thirty percent of the mice eating the low-carb diet also developed cancer however, more than half reached or exceeded the normal life span.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.