Increased fruit and vegetable consumption has 'small' impact on cancer prevention

In collaboration with Adfero

Eating fruit and vegetables slightly reduces the risk of developing cancer, a new study suggests.

Although eating more fruit and vegetables has been associated with cancer prevention for some time, it was not clear how strong the effect was.

As a result, an analysis of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study was carried out to test the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and cancer.

The findings of the study, which appear in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, show that around two-and-a-half extra servings of fruit and vegetables a day are linked with a three per cent lower risk of cancer.

But the authors advised that caution should be applied in the interpretation of the results as the relationship is so understated.

This view is echoed by Walter C Willett, who notes in an accompanying editorial that the correlation could be due to residual confounding.

Indeed, he suggests the study findings "add further evidence that a broad effort to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables will not have a major effect on cancer incidence".

That said, Mr Willett believes efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption should not be neglected, particularly given the positive effect this would have on reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

"For prevention of cancer, the primary focus at present should be heightened efforts to reduce smoking and obesity because obesity in the United States has become similar in magnitude to smoking as an avoidable cause," Mr Willett concluded.

Yinka Ebo, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This study, the largest on diet and cancer to date, shows that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can slightly reduce your cancer risk.

"It's still a good idea to eat your five-a-day but remember that fruits and vegetables are pieces in a much larger lifestyle jigsaw. There are many things we can do to lower our chances of developing cancer such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy balanced diet, being physically active and staying safe in the sun."

References

Boffetta, P. et al (2010). Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Overall Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djq072