Lung cancer, inflammation, and food
A July 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology linked saturated fat intake with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers and those who had recently quit smoking (in the previous 10 years). The study’s authors combined data from 10 previous studies including a total of 1.4 million people and more than 18,000 lung cancer patients. They found those who reported eating the most saturated fat had a higher risk of lung cancer than those who ate the least, while those who ate the most polyunsaturated fat seemed to have a lower risk than those who ate the least. “The underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown, but it is possible that current and recently-quit smokers may particularly benefit from improving quality of dietary fat,” explained study co-author Danxia Hu, an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, via email.
Charred and barbecued meats have been linked to a higher risk of pancreatic cancer and breast cancer, not lung cancer. But the grilling process generates carcinogens that are released when the meat fat is burned.
“Grilling can release polycyclic hydrocarbons and those can go into the meat and be cancer-causing,” explains Dr. Rohs. But don’t swear off grilling season just yet: Dr. Rohs says to avoid noshing of charred pieces of meat, make sure you don’t over-grill your burgers and dogs, and enjoy them in moderation.
Plus, a 2008 study from Kansas State University’s Food Safety Consortium found that adding the herb rosemary to hamburgers reduced the levels of carcinogens by 30% to 100%.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in small quantities in United States drinking water and foods like rice, apple juice, seafood, and poultry.
An August 2013 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine looked at populations in Bangladesh where arsenic levels in drinking water are particularly high. Researchers evaluated 950 Bangladeshis and found that people exposed to arsenic, even at moderate levels, had compromised lung function compared to those not exposed to arsenic. The damage was on par with decades of smoking (although they didn’t specifically look at lung cancer risk). Those who also smoked and were exposed to arsenic had even worse lung function than non-smokers, as measured by lung capacity and the ability to expel air.
Drinking water with very low levels of arsenic and consuming foods with the element in moderation is fine, says Dr. Roh. “Passive exposure shouldn’t have a significant increase on lung cancer risk,” he says. “There is a threshold level that you need to pass to have a risk.”