A new study suggests that carbs increase a person’s risk of getting lung cancer. It’s not all carbs that are bad, but some people who eat the wrong ones are nearly doubling their risk of lung cancer.
According to the study, carbs, or carbohydrates, that are high on the glycemic index (GI) are the ones causing the most risk. Being high on the index means that they are easier for the body to process into sugars — items like white rice, white bread, Russet potatoes, bagels, corn flakes, pretzels, and baguettes.
The participants who reported having diets highest in these carbs had a 49 percent higher chance of developing lung cancer than the people whose diets were in the lowest 20th percentile in these carbs, according to CNN.
Other better-known risk factors were tested as well. Low-carb diets were even more effective among people who reportedly never smoked. Among those participants, eating high glycemic index carbs increased the chances of lung cancer by 225 percent. For smokers, the effect was much less pronounced, a roughly 31 percent increase.
Senior author of the study Epidemiology Professor Xifeng Wu said the findings suggest a new way to prevent lung cancer, according to NBC News.
“The results from this study suggest that, besides maintaining healthy lifestyles, such as avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption and being physically active, reducing the consumption of foods and beverages with high glycemic index may serve as a means to lower the risk of lung cancer.”
The study was conducted in the Houston area. The researchers asked 2,000 people who had been diagnosed with lung cancer about the composition of their diets along with questions about other risk factors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. They then asked 2,400 healthy people the same questions.
Carbs may be a factor, but the leading cause of lung cancer is still smoking, which is blamed for about 85 percent of cases.
Researchers don’t understand how high GI carbs cause cancer, but they have a theory. Those carbs cause the blood sugar to spike, which in turn prompts the release of insulin. That insulin could be a trigger for the cancer cells to grow faster.
Past studies have shown that red meats and dairy products might also have a positive link with lung cancer. Likewise, fruits and vegetables have been shown to lower the risk.
The study is bad news for lovers of carbs, which are also frequently blamed for obesity. Health experts have been testing and debating which is more effective for losing weight — low-fat diets or low-carb diets — for years. According to the New York Times, the type of carbs seems to be a factor in weight loss, just like it is with lung cancer, with whole-food carbs being more weight-loss friendly than refined carbs like white bread and sugar.
As professor Wu explained in the Houston study, “this suggests that it is the average quality, instead of quantity, of carbohydrates consumed that may modulate lung cancer risk.”
Still, another study cited by Today claimed that low-fat diets had a slight edge in weight-loss, further complicating the health debate.
As for the lung cancer study, the results will be published in the March issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Professor Wu says that still more research is necessary to determine who would most decrease the risk of lung cancer most from cutting high GI carbs, and what concrete steps they should take.
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