Vegans - people who do not eat meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs - are less likely than their non-vegetarian counterparts to be diagnosed with cancer, a Loma Linda University suggests.
The study is titled Adventist Health Study – 2, university spokesman Herbert Atienza said in an announcement Tuesday.
Findings of the study also suggest that vegans "specifically receive more protection against female-specific cancers, such as breast, uterine, ovarian, and other genital cancers," Atienza said.
In addition, vegetarians who do consume dairy and eggs "receive more protection from cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, such as cancers of the colon, stomach, and pancreas; while vegetarians who eat fish receive protection from cancers of the respiratory and urinary system," Atienza said.
The findings should give doctors and dietitians "a better understanding of the relationships between specific vegetarian subtypes with specific cancers," said Dr. Yessenia Tantamango-Bartley, a professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health and postdoctoral fellow on the study.
Tantamango-Bartley is lead author of the research, which was published in the November online issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Prevention, Atienza said.
The study's findings used prospective data, which involve following subjects over time, "of 69,120 Seventh-day Adventists" participating in the study, Atienza said.
All study participants filled out questionnaires that asked how often they consumed more than 200 foods, Atienza said.
"Participants were then classified into a dietary category, based on their responses: Vegans, or people who abstain from meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs; Lacto-ovo vegetarians, or people who consume no meat, poultry and fish; and Pesco vegetarians, or people who consume no meat and poultry," Atienza said.
Among the study's findings touted by Loma Linda University:
- An association between vegetarianism, particularly those people who maintain a vegan diet, and all cancers, indicating mild but convincing protection from overall cancer risk.
- Vegetarians had less gastrointestinal cancers, including cancers of the colon, pancreas, liver, and stomach, especially among lacto-ovo vegetarians.
- Vegan women experienced fewer female-specific cancers;
- Pesco vegetarians seemed to have protection for cancers of the respiratory and urinary system.
"This study suggests that vegetarian diets may decrease the incidence of all cancers," Dr. Gary Fraser, identified as the study's principal investigator.
The study began in 2002 among members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church throughout the United States and Canada, Atienza said.
"A unique feature of the study is the participation of Seventh-day Adventist subjects, a population with a wide variety of dietary habits, as well as a very low percentage of alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking, non-dietary factors that may otherwise impact the study," Atienza said.
Loma Linda University is a Seventh-day Adventist educational health-sciences institution with more than 4,600 students, located in the Inland Empire of Southern California.