Could Ramen Consumption Cause Health Problems?

Regular consumption of instant noodles is associated with an increased risk for metabolic syndrome among women in South Korea.

Regular consumption of instant noodles is associated with an increased risk for metabolic syndrome among women in South Korea.

The results of a recent study suggest that eating instant noodles, including ramen, may increase the risk for cardiometabolic syndrome.

The study, published in the August 2014 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, evaluated associations between cardiometablic syndrome and the consumption of instant noodles among the population of South Korea, which has the highest per capita number of instant noodle consumers in the world. Researchers from Baylor Scott & White Health analyzed data from adults aged 19 to 64 years who participated in the 2007-2009 Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey IV.

Based on their answers to a food-frequency questionnaire, the patients were determined to have either a traditional dietary pattern consisting of rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and potatoes, or a “meat and fast-food pattern” consisting of meat, soda, fried food, and fast food. Overall, the fast-food diet was associated with obesity and high cholesterol, while the traditional diet was associated with a decreased prevalence of high blood pressure and obesity.

Although neither diet was associated with metabolic syndrome, regular consumption of instant noodles was linked to an increased risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Eating ramen 2 or more times a week was associated with a significantly higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome among women with an odds ratio of 1.68, independent of dietary pattern. Weekly consumption of instant noodles trended toward an increased risk for metabolic syndrome among men, though it was not statistically significant.

The researchers suggested the differences in risk between men and women could most likely be attributed to differences in hormones, metabolism, eating habits, and accuracy of food reporting. Bispehnol A, which is found in the Styrofoam packaging of ramen, might also play a role because the chemical has been shown to interfere with certain hormones, including estrogen.

Despite the gender differences, the study authors noted their results shed light on the effects of convenient and fast-food options. "This research is significant since many people are consuming instant noodles without knowing possible health risks," lead investigator Hyun Joon Shin, MD, said in a press release. "My hope is that this study can lay a foundation for future research about the health effects of instant noodle consumption."

The findings are especially important for the South Korean population, which has experienced dramatic increases in heart disease and obesity over the past few years.