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‘Strong evidence’: The food that’s a ’cause’ of cancer – the average Briton eats too much

Stomach cancer: Surgeon explains the symptoms

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Cancer kills millions of people each year and the billions devoted to research haven’t dented the figures much. This speaks to the ferocity of the disease: once cancer has sprouted, it is hard to stop. However, efforts to understand what drives cancer are afoot.

The role diet plays in influencing the risk of cancer remains the subject of ongoing research.

According to a 2014 report by the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF), high-salt foods directly drive the development of cancer.

The discovery came out of the WCRF’s Continuous Update Project (CUP) – the world’s largest, most authoritative and up-to-date source of scientific research on cancer prevention and survivorship through diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer.

The health organisation found “strong evidence” that certain high-salt foods are a “cause” of stomach cancer.

Foods defined as “high-salt” were those preserved by salting such as meat and fish, and salt-preserved vegetables.

The WCRF’s research showed that the more people eat of these foods the greater their chance of developing stomach cancer.

The evidence on these foods comes primarily from studies conducted in Asia, particularly Japan and Korea.

This is because many of the traditional foods in these countries are preserved by salting and fermentation, rather than by refrigeration as in many countries in the West.

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What accounts for this effect?

The WCRF says: “Scientists believe the increased stomach cancer risk from salt-preserved foods is because they contain a large amount of salt, which infuses the foods during the preservation process.

“Experimental research has shown that salt damages the stomach lining and causes lesions, which, if left to develop, can become stomach cancer.”

Importantly, the health body says, infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria also damages the stomach lining, and is made worse in the presence of salt.

“Helicobacter pylori infection is relatively common in parts of Asia and is also an independent cause of stomach cancer.”

The evidence on salt in diets from elsewhere in the world is inconclusive – this could be because of difficulties in measuring total salt, it notes.

“Evidence on total salt intake, from studies worldwide, didn’t show a strong link with stomach cancer. More research needs to be done to examine the impact of high-salt foods commonly eaten in the West.”

The findings are concerning nonetheless – the average person in the UK is thought to eat around 8.1g salt a day.

That’s a “third more than the maximum recommended intake of 6g a day, putting us all at increased risk of suffering later on in life”, warns Action on Salt, a group concerned with salt and its effects on health.

Other risk factors for stomach cancer

Anyone can get stomach cancer. It’s not always clear what causes it.

Some risk factors unfortunately cannot be modified, such age and gender. According to the NHS, you’re more at risk if you’re a man over the age of 50.

However, as the findings on salt indicate, making healthy changes can lower your chances of getting it.

The NHS says:

  • Try to quit smoking
  • Try to lose weight if you are overweight
  • Wear protective clothes and masks if you work in a job where you’re exposed to harmful chemicals, such as in the rubber industry or coal mining
  • Cut down on how much salt you eat
  • Try to cut down on alcohol – avoid drinking more than 14 units a week
  • Try to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Cut down on how much red and processed meat you eat, such as ham, bacon and salami.

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