Vegetarians are 14 per cent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, study says

Pescatarians are 10 per cent less likely than those who eat meat

Laura Hampson
Thursday 24 February 2022 11:46 GMT

Vegetarians are less likely to develop cancer than their meat-eating counterparts, a large-scale study has found.

The research, from Oxford University, found that vegetarians are 14 per cent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, while pescatarians are 10 per cent less likely.

The study, which was published in the journal BMC Medicine, analysed data from 470,000 Britons and found that even those who eat meat less than five times per week were two per cent less likely to develop cancer than those who eat it five times per week.

“In this large British cohort, being a low meat-eater, fish-eater or vegetarian was associated with a lower risk of all cancer sites when compared to regular meat-eaters,” the study said.

Dr Giota Mitrou, director of research and innovation at World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF), which co-funded the study with Cancer Research UK said that the results of the study suggest that specific dietary behaviours like eating a vegetarian or pescatarian diet could have an impact on reducing the risk of certain cancers like bowel, prostate and breast.

Specifically, the research found that low meat eaters have a nine per cent lower risk of developing bowel cancer than regular meat eaters.

Women who follow a vegetarian diet were 18 per cent less likely than regular meat eaters to develop postmenopausal breast cancer.

And men who ate a vegetarian diet had a 31 per cent lower change of developing prostate cancer than those who ate meat regularly. Pescatarian men had a 20 per cent lower chance.

The study authors added: “The lower risk of colorectal [bowel] cancer in low meat-eaters is consistent with previous evidence suggesting an adverse impact of meat intake. Vegetarian women’s lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer is likely to be ‘largely’ explained by their lower BMI.

“It is not clear whether the other differences observed for all cancers and for prostate cancer reflect any causal relationship or are due to other factors.”

However, the study authors noted that the research did not mean that eating meat increased the risk of cancer. They said that body fat and smoking could also be contributing factors.

They said: “Being a low meat-eater, pescatarian or vegetarian was associated with a lower risk of all cancer.

“[But this] may be a result of dietary factors and/or non-dietary differences in lifestyle, such as smoking.”

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