For decades, vegans have been saying that vegans have lower rates of cancer. Until now, there was no direct evidence for this. But last week a report from Adventist Health Study-2 was released showing vegans to have a lower cancer rate than regular meat-eaters. Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to conclude that it is due to the diet.
There were 4,922 vegans in the study. After 4.1 years of follow-up and breaking the population into five categories (regular meat-eaters, semi-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians, and vegans) vegans had a 16% reduced risk of cancer when compared to regular meat-eaters (.84, .72-.99). Vegans were the only diet category to have a statistically significant lower risk of cancer.
These results were adjusted for age, race, family history of cancer, education, smoking, alcohol, age at menarche, pregnancies, breastfeeding, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, and menopause status. When the results were also adjusted for body mass index (BMI), the findings for vegans were no longer statistically significant (.86, .73 – 1.00). Additionally, the results were not adjusted for physical activity even though the authors found significantly more physical activity among those who did not get cancer and also among the vegans. Since physical activity could have affected the vegans’ BMI, you cannot rule out that it was simply more physical activity among the vegans that led to lower cancer rates and not the vegan diet.
When combining all the vegetarian categories and comparing them as a whole to the regular meat-eaters, the “vegetarians” had an 8% lower risk of cancer (.92, .85 -.99), but the “vegetarians” included some people who eat meat (the semi- and pesco-vegetarians). Using the BMI-adjusted model changed the finding a tad (.92, .85 – 1.00).
The follow-up period was only an average of 4.1 years – that’s not very long for a study on cancer. Hopefully, Adventist Health Study-2 will do some longer follow-up on cancer rates.
You can see the cancer rates of the other diet groups in Table 2 of the article Cancer, Vegetarianism, and Diet at VeganHealth.org.
This post has two follow-ups:
Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers
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