Does Obesity Cause Cancer?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Diets, Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, Lose Weight, Obesity, Obesity and Cancer

Is The Obesity Epidemic Killing Us?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Does obesity cause cancer?

does obesity cause cancerYou probably already know that we are in the midst of a world-wide obesity epidemic. If not, here are some of the alarming statistics that characterize that epidemic:

  • The global prevalence of obesity has increased by 27.5% between 1980 and 2013.
  • 35% of the adult population worldwide is now overweight (BMI ≥ 25), including 12% who are classified as obese (BMI ≥30).
  • According to the NIH the situation is even worse in developed countries like the US where 75.1% of adults are now overweight, including 35.7% who are obese, and 6.3% who are very obese (BMI ≥40).

Unfortunately, overweight and obesity are not benign. You probably already knew that those excess pounds increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and much more. You probably also knew that those excess pounds increase your risks of certain types of cancer such as colon, rectal, kidney, pancreatic, postmenopausal breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.

It’s been a little more difficult to determine just how much obesity increases cancer risk. However, a recent study suggests that the increased risk could be quite significant. In fact, if this study is correct, obesity may only be second to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer. The truth might just scare you skinny!

Does Obesity Cause Cancer?

cancer epidemicThe International Agency For Research On Cancer did a worldwide study, (Arnold et al, The Lancet Oncology 16: 36-45, 2015),  in which they looked at the effect of BMI on cancer incidence in adults aged 20 years or older. The BMI data was collected in 2002 and was segregated by sex and age groups. Recognizing that cancer takes decades to develop, they then collected data on newly diagnosed cancers in adults 30 and older in the same countries in 2012.  They were determined to get closer to answering the question, does obesity cause cancer?

By comparing BMIs in 2002 with the incidence of newly diagnosed cancers 10 years later they were able to calculate the effect of excess body weight (BMI ≥25) on cancer incidence. The results were startling:

  • They estimated that 481,000 new cases of cancer in 2012 in adults over 30 were attributable to excess weight.
  • That represents 3.6% of all new cancer cases, which makes overweight second only to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer.
  • Uterine cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and colon cancer accounted for 63.6% of all cancers caused by overweight. Other cancers affected by excess weight were rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, gallbladder cancer, and ovarian cancer.
  • The effect of excess weight on cancer risk was almost 3-fold greater for women (5.4% of new cancer cases) than for men (1.9% of new cancer cases).
  • In North America 111,000 new cases of cancer in 2012 for adults over 30 were attributable to excess weight. That represents 3.5% of all new cancers in men and 9.4% of all new cancers in women.
  • A quarter (about 118,000) of the worldwide cancer cases related to high BMI in 2012 could be attributed to the increase in BMI that has occurred since 1982.

The authors concluded “These findings emphasize the need for a global effort to abate the increasing numbers of people with high BMI. Assuming that the association between the high BMI and cancer is causal, the continuation of current patterns of population weight gain will lead to continuing increases in the future burden of cancer.”

What Does This Study Mean For You?

We have to stop kidding ourselves. That excess flab isn’t harmless. It is killing us, and cancer is a particularly gruesome way to go. It’s time to get serious about weight loss. Here are my top 5 tips for lasting weight loss.

  • fad dietsEat healthy low calorie meals and snacks with plenty of protein so that you maintain muscle mass while you are losing fat.
  • Avoid the fad diets. You don’t need to restrict carbohydrates or fats. You just need to focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and modest amounts of healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates.
  • Find an exercise program you like and stick with it every day.
  • Focus on true lifestyle change rather than short term diets. A good strategy is to make one healthy change at a time rather than trying to do everything at once.
  • Change how you think about food, think about exercise, and think about your ability to make the kinds of changes that will lead to permanent weight loss. Don’t think of yourself as a fat person who is trying to lose weight. Think of yourself as a skinny person who happens to have a few extra pounds that are on their way out.

Of course, getting to a healthier weight isn’t the only change you want to make if you are trying to reduce your risk of cancer. Here are my top 7 lifestyle change suggestions (besides weight loss) for reducing cancer risk.

  • healthy eatingIf you smoke, stop. No ifs, ands, or buts. Smoking is still the #1 cause of cancer.
  • Eat a healthy diet (including supplements to fill the gaps).
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are good sources of cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols.
  • Eat fish and fish oil supplements to make sure that you get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Minimize saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Substitute olive oil for vegetable oils whenever possible.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation.
  • Avoid sun exposure as much as possible, and use sunscreen when outdoors.
  • Eat healthy proteins.
  • Minimize consumption of red meats and processed meats.
  • Use chicken, fish and vegetable proteins whenever possible.
  • Soy protein is particularly helpful for reducing the risk of breast cancer. (Yes, those scary blogs about soy and breast cancer are wrong. For accurate information, just go to https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com and type soy in the search box).
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Get regular check-ups.

So, does obesity cause cancer?  I think you now know the answer.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study has shown:
  • 481,000 new cases of cancer worldwide each year are attributable to excess weight.
  • That represents 3.6% of all new cancer cases, which makes overweight second only to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer.
  • Uterine cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and colon cancer accounted for 63.6% of all cancers caused by overweight.
  • The effect of excess weight on cancer risk was almost 3-fold greater for women (5.4% of new cancer cases) than for men (1.9% of new cancer cases).
  • In North America 111,000 new cases of cancer for adults over 30 are attributable to excess weight. That represents 3.5% of all new cancers in men and 9.4% of all new cancers in women.
  • That excess flab isn’t harmless. It is killing us, and cancer is a particularly gruesome way to go. For my top 5 tips for lasting weight loss and my top 7 tips for reducing your risk of cancer, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.

 

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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