That's Debatable
November 28, 2006 7:15 PM   Subscribe

Diet trials. Is it time to reconsider changing what we eat to prevent cancer?
posted by engling (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sweet formatting.

Eating food that's good for you means the terrorists have won.
posted by fenriq at 7:19 PM on November 28, 2006

Your favorite food sucks.
posted by TweetleBeetleBattleBookie at 7:21 PM on November 28, 2006

"Rare is the adult who has not head". True that.
posted by tellurian at 7:23 PM on November 28, 2006

I think the results of this study are being misunderstood. They found that the studies themselves were not accurate. Certain foods may be effective at preventing or fighting cancer, but the referenced studies were ineffective at determining any statistically significant correlations because the studies' participants did not adhere to the required regimens. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

The first article also seemed to indicate that it was large-scale studies primarily that proved ineffective, and that smaller-scale studies have, in fact, supported the claims of anti-cancer effects in certain foods.
posted by PigAlien at 8:04 PM on November 28, 2006

You mean people watch what they eat? For cancer? The mind boggles. I like avacadoes with soy sauce (not the kind made with human hair), does that mean I'm going to die?
posted by IronLizard at 8:06 PM on November 28, 2006

I wish rocky mountain mudslide cakes prevented cancer.
posted by hojoki at 8:13 PM on November 28, 2006

IronLizard, yep. You are going to die, unless you're an Immortal and then I'm gonna have to take your head. Sorry about that. But thanks for the idea of the soy sauce and avo, sounds good.

What kind of soy sauce is made from human hair? Please tell me its not Kikkoman.
posted by fenriq at 8:20 PM on November 28, 2006

A quick Google later and......ewwwwww!
posted by fenriq at 8:21 PM on November 28, 2006

soy sauce and avo, sounds good.

Right out of the skin with a spoon, it's its own little bowl and the depression left by the seeds holds the soy perfectly.

/We now return you to your regularly scheduled..... what the hell was this about again?
posted by IronLizard at 8:25 PM on November 28, 2006

I bet its great with a dash of wasabi
posted by b1tr0t at 8:27 PM on November 28, 2006

Like I'm ready to believe any study that proves that studies don't prove anything.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:35 PM on November 28, 2006

Stop obsessing about cancer. We're all going to die anyway.
posted by anthill at 9:04 PM on November 28, 2006

From the first link:

"... a slight reduction in the low-fat eaters' rate of breast cancer; only continued follow-up will determine whether or not it is a random bump in the data."

I can't tell if the writer is being clever or insensitive.

Probably both.
posted by logicpunk at 9:38 PM on November 28, 2006

My anti-cancer diet: six cups of coffee, fourteen cigarettes, two joints of marijuana, three glasses of red wine, one avocado. Results may vary.
posted by bukharin at 9:39 PM on November 28, 2006

So bukharin, do you reckon I'll be OK if I leave out the ciggies?
posted by pompomtom at 10:00 PM on November 28, 2006

Avocados with soy sauce are amazing. Everyone, go try this. Eat one. You will be happier.
posted by moss at 10:40 PM on November 28, 2006

The first article also seemed to indicate that it was large-scale studies primarily that proved ineffective, and that smaller-scale studies have, in fact, supported the claims of anti-cancer effects in certain foods.

One of the main reasons why traditional large scale studies don't work too well is that they ignore underlying variation in the people enrolled. If only a third of people are going to respond well to a certain food or nutrient (because of underlying genetic variation or life style choice or whatever) then you're probably not going to get significant results from a straight feeding trial. Whereas if you prescreen your subjects and only choose those who can respond then you're more likely to find a real difference. Examples are populations with or without the enzyme lactose dehydrogenase, those without are lactose intolerant so testing different types of milk on them would likely be pointless (that's a pretty crude example that I totally just made up, but you get the picture).

This stuff is the basis of nutrigenomics, a relatively new field looking at interaction between diet and genetics. It may be that people with specific gene variants are more likely to gain anti-cancer benefits from certain food (either because they have increased susceptability to start with or because they are more efficient at metabolising certain nutrients or some other reason). This was one of the (many) issues with the WHI trial. Often newer/smaller studies are able to show anti-cancer effects because they preselect or group their treatment subjects better and identify the possible responders from the definite-non-responders. So in the example above the milk trial may only include those expressing lactose dehydrogenase. This doesn't bias the results as such (assuming groups are appropriately randomised), just allows more in depth analysis of the underlying populations represented.

Pharmacogenomics, another developing field, is similar and investigates how drugs interact with genetics. An example is the chemotherapy Herceptin, which blocks activity from a specific mutated receptor protein and therefore only works in patients carrying that mutation. Tumours are genotyped and the drug is only given to those positive for the mutated receptor. Prescreening of patients into drug trials is also becoming standard practise.

We are a long long way off understanding all the interactions going on between the food we eat and our underlying genome (both in general terms and for specific genetic variants), but there is a good lot of data showing that five or more servings of fresh fruit and vegetables does have positive health benefits including overall reduction in cancer risk. Nothing has changed this (despite the conflicting advice coming from research in this area) and it's still the best advice available for dietary cancer protection. Ignoring that because scientists don't have all the answers nicely tied up is silly.

At the same time nutrition advice to the public has often been mismanaged in the recent past. There needs to be a lot of education both to the public about how to understand scientific result and to the scientists about how to get the important messages across to the public without getting bogged down in data, hype or distractions. And yeah, there are changes being made in how diet trials are done. We're not there yet with that one but it's happening.

Nutrigenomics is looking at more than just cancer, although that is certainly one very active field of study. As another example (and full disclaimer) I'm doing my PhD in Nutrigenomics looking at how fruit extracts interact with genes and pathways involved in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Nutrition research is changing. The issues highlighted in the linked articles and elsewhere are part of it, and it's going to take a total mindshift to deal with it. Nutrigenomics is part of that change.
posted by shelleycat at 12:13 AM on November 29, 2006 [3 favorites]

Avacado with soy sauce? Bah. Try them with Lawrey's Season Salt. Now that's good!
posted by Goofyy at 12:24 AM on November 29, 2006

Soy Sauce: It's people! No, really!

I have a roomate who uses imported Chinese food products, including soy sauce (he moved to the States a several years back.) Making stir fry with some of it seems to be a bad idea now.
posted by portisfreak at 12:56 AM on November 29, 2006

Eat what you want and die like a man

I don't want to live longer. I want to live better. Pass the butter.
posted by srboisvert at 4:19 AM on November 29, 2006

Mmmm... Avocados.
posted by algreer at 5:10 AM on November 29, 2006

I thought that if you live long enough and don't die from something else, you will get cancer no matter what. That it was kind of the inevitable end result of long-term cell reproduction.

In any event, certainly eating some things will give you cancer sooner than others and should be avoided -- which is probably why the Carcinogens & Asbestos Diet is so unpopular -- but it seems to me more important to focus on eating things that let you feel good and have a good general quality of life, rather than focusing on a specific end-of-life disease. There is no magical formula of foods that will let you avoid death.

But then, I'm no epidemiologist.
posted by moonbiter at 5:39 AM on November 29, 2006

Yes, we're all going to die anyway, but it's a matter of when and how. I don't want to increase the odds that I'll go this year slowly and painfully if I can just as easily increase the odds that I'll go painlessly forty years from now. If there's a reasonable argument that giving up jelly doughnuts means a significantly lower chance of getting testicular cancer, I might choose to give up the doughnuts rather than my nuts. No one food or kind of food is that important to me.

The best tests to determine this stuff don't rely very much on answers to questionnaires. Instead of (or in addition to) asking people what they eat, pay families to install toilets that analyze everything that goes into them and fridges that track everything that goes in and out of them, give them free grocery delivery so you can track everything they order, and give them frequent free medical examinations and free or low-cost health options to try such as gym memberships and natural food options that they normally might not be able to afford. Then ask them questions, but compare their answers to what the toilet and the fridge and the grocery store say. And do it for at least a couple of decades.

Of course, maybe they'll eventually discover that viruses cause cancer and that diet doesn't matter...
posted by pracowity at 5:44 AM on November 29, 2006

hmmm....nuts or jelly donuts...nuts or jelly donuts. Really, what good are your nuts if you don't want kids? I mean, jelly fuckin donuts, man!!
posted by spicynuts at 6:32 AM on November 29, 2006

Eat what you want and die like a man

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posted by daHIFI at 9:15 AM on November 29, 2006

I don't want to live longer. I want to live better. Pass the butter.

we'll see what the government has to say about that!
posted by brandz at 7:16 PM on November 29, 2006

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