Ultra-Processed Foods Found to Increase Colorectal Cancer Risk in Men


Study indicates that a diet high in ultra-processed food is more likely to increase the risk of colorectal cancer in men than it is women.

High consumption of ultra-processed foods can increase a man’s risk of developing colorectal cancer by 29%, according to a study published in BMJ. Meats, ready-to-eat products, and sugar-sweetened beverages were among the major dietary risk factors, according to the study.

“Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a strong risk factor for colorectal cancer,” said lead study author Lu Wang, postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. “Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for colorectal cancer.”

In 3 prospective studies over the course of 25 years, more than 200,000 respondents answered a food frequency questionnaire every 4 years. The researchers ranked the consumption of ultra-processed foods into quintiles. The highest quintile signified the greatest risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Across all the studies, 46,341 participants were male and 159,907 females. While there was nearly 3-fold times more women, colorectal cancer cases numbered 1294 in men and 1922 in women, indicating that a poor, ultra-processed diet posed a significantly higher risk among men than women.

“Further research will need to determine whether there is a true sex difference in the associations, or if null findings in women in this study were merely due to chance or some other uncontrolled confounding factors in women that mitigated the association,” said co-senior study author Mingyang Song, assistant professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in the press release.

The foods most associated with colorectal cancer include meat, poultry, fish-based, ready-to-eat products. The researchers also labeled sugar-sweetened drinks, including soda, fruit-based beverages, sugary milk-based beverages, as harmful dietary products associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in men.

However, the investigating team noticed that yogurt actually decreased colorectal cancer risk among women, according to co-senior author Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer epidemiologist and interim chair of the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science at the Friedman School. Other risk factors include food additives, which alter the gut microbiome and promote inflammation, as well as food processing or packaging that could introduce contaminants, Zhang said.

“Researchers continue to examine how nutrition-related policies, dietary recommendations, and recipe and formula changes, coupled with other healthy lifestyle habits, can improve overall health and reduce cancer burden. It will be important for us to continue to study the link between cancer and diet, as well as the potential interventions to improve outcomes,” Wang concluded in the press release.


Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus. New study links ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer in men. August 31, 2022. Accessed on September 6, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/963134

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