Diet and cancer

Diet is, after smoking, the main factor associated with the appearance of tumours. It may be linked to between 25 and 30% of cancer cases. When research on this link began in a systematic manner it was based on the idea of finding food or food components with clearly individualized effects. However, research has proved that the wide array of components found in a diet interact with each other and with other factors and could aid or protect the appearance of tumours. A considerable number of substances with potential carcinogenic components has been identified. It does not look as if food, however, is involved in triggering tumour formation. Chemical contaminants in food are the more likely triggers.

Alcohol consumption is an exception to this rule, since it has been known for some time that it is related to the appearance of tumours. Although this effect has not been proven in experimental studies, epidemiological evidence is so strong that the World Health Organization has classified alcohol intake as a carcinogen. The effect is even stronger among smokers.
As to additives, many manufactured foods have various substances added to them. Although the public has a negative perception of this group of compounds, studies carried out on human populations have not shown that any of them produce cancer at the concentrations authorized under legislation currently in force.

On the other hand, cooking at high temperatures produces various compounds that are able to induce mutations, and more so if the food comes into direct contact with the flames. You should take into account that the exposition to this type of compounds in a diet is normally at low or very low doses. But they may be higher when added to exposure to other substances, such as cigarette smoke, or to those encountered in certain industrial occupations.

Besides these substances, various chemical contaminants may be found in food. Pesticides and dioxin stand out. Pesticides contaminate plants. The fact that they are fat-soluble and have an extended persistence in the environment allows them to accumulate in the fatty tissue of plant-eating animals so they also become sources of exposure for humans. Due to their effects on animal models they are considered possible carcinogens.

On the other hand, dioxins mainly turn into contaminants when waste products containing chlorine are incinerated and also as by-products of chemical processes. They share some of the characteristics of pesticides, such as accumulating in fatty tissue, and they are considered probable carcinogens.

The most positive effect of diet is its capacity to counteract carcinogenic processes, especially thanks to milk, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. Given that the quantity and the quality of the food we ingest is a source of protective as well as damaging factors, it is recommended that you eat the most varied diet possible rather than any one particular food. This is also why food monitoring turns out to be one of the most important preventive measures.

Did you know...

In Spain different species of bats are carriers for the rabies virus. If you are bitten by one of these animals, you should seek medical advice immediately.

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