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March 24, 2014 • Cancer Prevention

Animal Protein May Boost Cancer Risk on Par with Smoking

steakIf you are middle-age and love your meat, cheese, and dairy and eat it too, you may be dramatically boosting your risk of premature death, particularly from cancer.  In this eye-opening new report, middle-age study subjects consuming the most animal proteins were four times more likely to die of cancer than study subjects consuming a low-protein diet. In fact, the boost in cancer risk associated with eating lots of animal protein was on par with being a regular smoker! The study included over 6,000 ethnically diverse US adults over the age of 50 whose diets were monitored for nearly 20 years.  In addition to a much greater risk of cancer death, animal protein lovers were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause vs. those who ate less animal protein or those who got their protein mostly from plant-based sources.  In fact, those whose diets were heavy in plant-based proteins, while being low in animal-based proteins, experienced no excess risk of cancer or early death.

However, for study subjects over the age of 65, a completely different picture emerged.  Elderly study subjects consuming the highest protein diets, including those eating lots of animal based-proteins were more than 25% less likely to die. These findings are not surprising given that it takes significantly more dietary protein during old-age to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and maintain optimal muscle mass.  Sarcopenia—the loss of muscle mass associated with aging, is a major driver of disability and subsequent mortality and death in the elderly.

Although this type of study cannot provide definitive conclusions, it is in keeping with my current guidance for how to do your protein right. Click here to learn more.

Cell Metabolism, 2014: 19 (3)