The world is a microcosm. Every action created results in new actions. The ripple effect of living and our decisions. The food we choose to put into our bodies to feed our cells has just such a ripple effect. By choosing to eat a plant based diet we are feeding our bodies what they need to thrive and live. This in turn reduces our reliance on the medical community including doctors, testing, drugs and hospital care. Study after study has shown the correlation between eating non-plant based foods and the risk of cancer and other diseases. One third of all cancer deaths are related to nutrition(1). For example, the incidence of lung and colorectal cancer has been found to be lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians(2). Women who eat as few as two servings of vegetables per day reduce their cancer risk of breast cancer by 30%(3). The list goes on.
The costs of treating these diseases has an impact on everyone. Again the ripple effect. In 2009, the estimated cost of all cancer and benign neoplasms was $216 .6 billion ($86.6 billion in direct costs and $130 billion in mortality indirect costs). These costs are translated directly to the pockets of every American paying medical insurance.
If all factors are taken into account, cancer is mostly a preventable disease. In a 1980s landmark study(4), it was concluded that “the United States will eventually have the option of adopting a diet that reduces its incidence of cancer by approximately one third, and it is absolutely certain that another one third could be prevented by abolishing smoking. It is generally agreed that cancers of some sites, like the colon, are to be mostly affected by food and nutrition.” This was published over 30 years ago and we are still a country with the highest cancer and obesity rates.
NOTE: Some of the data and statistics in the next section of this post are from Howard Lyman (The New Mad Cowboy) and some I have updated with more recent numbers and sources. For many of the citations (following this post) I have provided live links for you to check out the actual studies themselves. If there is no live link present just Google the reference and find the original abstract and/or article.
Howard Lyman has compiled the most amazing collection of resources in a single website. I am sharing some of those with you here. These are a collection of scientific references dealing with cancer. Start with these and continue to do your own internet research so that you are relying on actual scientific data and not the media for your information.
I have included one statement of a biased nature as an example to be cautious when reading study results. Always look at the source reference and the funding institution and you will understand why (highlighted in red).
Reducing Cancer Risk: In a 1997 report analyzing more that 4500 research studies, the World Cancer Research fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that vegetarian diets decrease the risk of cancer(14).
Foods for the Prevention of Cancer: Choose a plant-based diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes, and minimally processed starchy staple foods(14).
Vegetarian Cancer Rates: Cancer rates for vegetarians compared to general population are 25-50% less after controlling for smoking, body mass index, and socio-economic status(15)(5).
Plant Based Diets and the Prevention of Cancer: Diets rich in animal protein products (also high in total fat and low in complex carbohydrates and antioxidants) are likely causing well over 200,000 cancer deaths each year in the US. The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented by adopting a plant-based diet(16).
Fiber and Cancer: Results from clinical studies have suggested that dietary fiber reduces cancer risk, and omega-3 fatty acids have shown a protective benefit against cancer. Flaxseed is the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, is high in fiber and is a source of lignan. Lignan, which is a specific family of fiber-related compounds, appears to play a role in influencing both estrogen and testosterone metabolism.(23)
Vegetarians and Life Expectancy: If US citizens adopted good nutrition, incorporated exercise into their daily routine and did not smoke they would increase their life expectancy by 7 years(17).
Life Expectancy: The likelihood of a vegetarian reaching the age of 80 compared to a non-vegetarian (after adjusting for smoking) was found to be 1.8 times greater(2). A vegetarian lifestyle of long duration (> or = 20 y) was associated with decreased overall and cancer mortality(20).
Life Expectancy: Male vegetarians, on average, outlive other men by about six years(21).
Longevity and Health: Participants in the Framingham Heart Study who consumed more plant-based protein than animal-based protein lived longer and healthier lives(22).
Lung Cancer Statistics
Lung Cancer Mortality: Most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide (150,000 annually in US) and it is mostly attributed to smoking, which is a completely avoidable choice.
Lung Cancer and Second Hand Smoke: Impact of smoking on lung cancer incidence is so overwhelming that even people exposed to second-hand smoke are at an increased risk.
Lung & Colorectal Cancer: These cancers are lower in vegetarians(5)(6).
Lung Cancer,Vegetables, & Fruits: The evidence that diets high in vegetables and fruits protect against lung cancer is compelling. The most effective way of preventing lung cancer is not to use tobacco. The most effective dietary means of preventing lung cancer (20-60% reduction in risk) is consumption of diets high in vegetables (especially green, orange and yellow) and fruits (especially apples, bananas and grapes). Carrots had the strongest protective effect.(7)(8)(9)(10)
Breast Cancer Statistics
Rates in Women: The leading cancer in women, regardless of race, is breast cancer, followed by lung and colon/rectal in white women, and colon/rectal and lung in black women. Breast cancer rates are about 20 percent higher in white women than in black women.(11)
Breast Cancer Rates & Vegetarians: Lower breast cancer rates have not been observed in Western vegetarians but have been observed in Asian cultures. Cross-cultural data indicate that breast cancer rates are lower in populations that consume plant-based diets possibly linking the protective mechanism of lower estrogen levels.(12)
Breast Cancer Risks and Carotenoids: Lower breast cancer risks may be related to higher levels of carotenoids(13).
Prostate Cancer Statistics
Cancer Rates in Men: Prostate cancer is the leading cancer in men, regardless of race, followed by lung and colon/rectal. Prostate cancer rates are 1.5 times higher in black men than white men along with higher mortality rates.(11)
Flaxseed and Prostate Cancer: A diet rich in flaxseed seems to reduce the size, aggressiveness and severity of tumors in mice, according to research from Duke University Medical Center. In 3 percent of the mice, the flaxseed diet prevented them from getting the disease at all.(18)
Prostate Cancer and Allium Vegetables: A daily serving (from the allium group of vegetables–garlic, scallions, onions, leeks, and chives) may help protect against the development of prostate cancer.(19)
In Case You Did Not Know
Meat is the Answer? The basic reason why heart disease and cancer have become the number one and number two causes of death in the U.S. and other affluent countries is that people are living longer. What has allowed us to live long enough to run these risks? Meat, among other things.(24) Evaluate this source very carefully!
- American Cancer Society, 1998
- Key et al 1996
- Willet, 1995
- Doll and Peto
- Appleby et al 2002
- Mills et al 1976-1982
- Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, American Institute for Cancer Research, and World Cancer Research Fund
- Hirayama, 2003
- Colditz et al 1987
- International Journal of Cancer
- United States Cancer Statistics 2013
- American Cancer Society Facts and Figures 2015
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015
- World Cancer Research Fund & American Institute for Cancer Research 1997
- Chang-Claude et al 1992
- Campbell 2015
- Ornstein, Robert, and Ehrlich, Paul, “New World, New Mind,” Touchstone/Simon and Schuser, New York NY, 1989, pg 121
- Duke University Medical Center
- Hsing et al 2002
- Frentzel-Beyme et al 1994
- Framingham Heart Study
- Saltalamacchia and Barnard 2016
- Duke University Medical Center
- National Cattlemen’s Beef Association