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Why Should You Avoid A High-Carb Diet If You Have Cancer?


Cancer is not something you get. It is a disease primarily caused by poor lifestyle choices and unhealthy diets.

According to an article in the International Journal of Cancer, people who are yet to undergo cancer treatment increase their risk of cancer recurrence and mortality because they still continue consuming a diet full of carbohydrates and various forms of sugar. On the other hand, the lead author of the study named Anna Arthur added that eating fats and starchy foods in moderation could reduce these risks.

What the cancer patients were eating before and after their treatment as well as their corresponding health outcomes was the focus of the researchers. The study ran for more than two years and it involved 400 patients from the University of Michigan Head and Neck Specialized Program of Research Excellence. These patients were recently diagnosed and treated for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).

HNSCC usually develop in salivary glands, larynx, paranasal sinuses and sinus cavity, oral cavity, and throat. This type of cancer develops from the squamous cells that line mucosal surfaces inside the neck and head.

The researchers used the Harvard Food Frequency Questionnaire. They were able to identify the food items, supplements, and beverages the patients had taken a year before they were diagnosed with cancer.

According to Arthur, they have discovered that those patients who ate the most amounts of total carbohydrates and sugar (fructose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose) a year before their treatment were most likely to die from any cause during their follow-up period. Likewise, these patients consumed on average at least 4.4 servings of simple carbohydrates (refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts) which is a far cry from the 1.3 servings of those who ate the lowest amounts.

Aside from this, the tonsils and the base of the tongue including its surrounding tissues were the most commonly diagnosed HNSCC types, with nearly 70% of diagnoses made at the later stages of the disease.

More than 17% of patients had a recurring case, with 42 patients dying from during the follow-up period. Plus, researchers noted that 70 participants died from other causes.

Along with carbohydrate consumption, the type of cancer and stage also played a role according to Arthur. Those who consumed the highest amounts of sugars and carbohydrates had oral cavity cancer. Similarly, the two factors were also linked to an uptick in mortality risk in people with stages 1-3 cancer, but not stage 4.

Arthur added:

“Although in this study we found that higher total carbohydrate and total sugar were associated with higher mortality in head and neck cancer patients, because of the study design we can’t say that there’s a definitive cause-effect relationship. The next step would be to conduct a randomized clinical trial to test whether carbohydrate restriction has a protective effect on survival rates.”

Researchers pointed out that eating a moderate amount of starch and various forms of fat after treatment may improve a patient’s survival rate as well as increase his chances of remission.

Co-author Amy Goss of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) explained:

“Our results, along with the findings of other studies, suggest that diet composition can affect cancer outcomes. We’d like to determine if this is true using a prospective, intervention study design and identify the underlying mechanisms. For example, how does cutting back on sugar and other dietary sources of glucose affect cancer growth?”

Dr. Laura Rogers, another co-author of the study and a professor of nutrition sciences at UAB stated that:

“This observational study is noteworthy because it focuses on serious cancer that is difficult to treat, and little is known about how nutrition can best help a patient battling it. This study reiterates the importance of additional intervention studies that test optimal diet recommendations for cancer survivors.”

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