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Effect of Vegetarian Diet on Reducing Risk of Cancer

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The thought of the word cancer brings up so many emotions due to its negative connotation. Cancer has created this poor reputation by taking the lives of so many innocent people each day. Cancer is irregular cell growth which is due to the alterations of DNA caused by many lifestyle factors. During 1981 it was estimated that diet was responsible for 35% of cancers in the United States. This essay focuses on the impacts that a vegetarian diet can have on decreasing cancer risk.

The phytochemicals included in a plant-based diet has shown to develop a healthy body. An Oxford controlled study performed in 2007 using 3,277 people of same ethnicity, similar age and lifestyle habits showed that vegetarians had reduced risks for certain disease such as cancer by having an overall greater health than omnivores. The study results showed that vegetarians had 10% lower cholesterol, 25% lower chance of having IHD, and a lower BMI mean of 22 whereas omnivores had a mean of 25. Another cohort study done by EPIC-Oxford shows that these factors are highly correlated to cancer. A vegetarian diet is full of phytochemicals that protect the body from changes in the DNA.

Studies have proven that the consumption of animal protein such as dairy products, and meat are associated with the risks of several types of diseases such as cancer. In a randomized study done with 93 patients with prostate cancer showed that the patient’s health significantly improved with zero intake of meat and high intake of low-fat diet including lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. This study was followed up for a year and results showed that patients saturated fat content decreased from 20 to 5g/day, cholesterol content from 200 to 10mg/day, as well as fiber content from 31 to 59g/day. These protective nutrients are very important dietary factors that can contribute to decreasing the risks for many diseases. It can be said that vegetarians have built increased immunity that protects them from developing disease that can open pathways to other disease.

There is evidence supporting that meat produces carcinogenic chemicals. The general public consumes processed meat such as smoked, barbecued, fried or grilled meat. Processing meat with high temperatures produces PAH and NOC, which are carcinogens that can cause changes in DNA with long term exposure. In 1995, the National Institutes of Health conducted a cohort study to observe the relationship between processed meat and cancer. This was done by self-administered questionnaires about lifestyle habits of people aging from 50-7 followed up for 6 years. The results showed that the increase of 100g/day in the consumption of processed meat increases risk for lung cancer by 16% and colorectal cancer by 20%.

Meat is needed for optimal health which is required for a healthy body. A study performed by the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey collected data for 2 years of adults aging from 19-64 with omnivorous diets that suggest that meat is responsible for providing 15% magnesium, 36% zinc and 21% iron in their diet. Red meat carries out important roles in the human body such as providing beneficial fatty acids, amino acids and micronutrients that are important from an infant's development during pregnancy up to adult life. For example, by making proteins in the body that carry out important functions that improve the health of individuals.

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There is no direct causation of cancer from meat. In a cohort study between people who were vegetarians and omnivores done to report the incidences of colorectal cancer present between the two groups, found that the rate of having cancer was higher in vegetarians than omnivores. This study had 61 566 participants, included both men and women, and was controlled of confounding effects such as smoking, physical activity, and age.

Meat can help prevent disease that can lead to cancer. Meat provides high levels of protein than vegetables or fruits. Proteins are more satiating compared to other nutrients such as carbohydrates, and study proves that satiety leads to weight loss. Obesity can open so many paths for so many diseases like cancer. The MONICA study done in Europe showed that a percentage of cancers could be avoided by maintaining a low BMI, 40% of endometrial cancer, 10% of breast cancer and 25% of kidney cancers. Proteins increase satiety and that is why eating lean red meat reduces or maintains weight, because less is eaten while the body is full. Red meat is a healthy source of protein and contains important nutrients that benefit health and even weight loss because of its a satiating advantage due to high levels of proteins.

A vegetarian diet is full of phytochemical that protect the body from changes in the DNA. These phytochemicals stop the have been observed to reduce cholesterol and lower BMI. While, meat plays an important role throughout an individual's life by providing significant amounts of zinc, magnesium and iron. Red meat carries out important roles in the human body that carry out important functions. The consumption of animal protein is associated with the risks of several types of diseases such as cancer. Meat produces carcinogenic chemicals such as PAH and NOC, which are carcinogens that can cause changes in DNA with long term exposure increasing risk for lung cancer and colorectal cancer. A vegetarian diet can provide protective nutrients that can result in lower risks for cancer. Vegetarians can build immunity to developing pathogens because it has been shown that they have decreased saturated fats, cholesterol and increased fiber in their body. On the contrary, some research suggest that meat can help prevent disease that can lead to cancer by providing higher levels of protein than a vegetarian diet. Proteins increase satiety and that is why eating lean red meat reduces or maintains weight, because less is eaten while the body is full. This satiating affect can prevent obesity which can prevent many diseases like cancer.

There have been many studies done providing evidence that being a vegetarian decreases chances of having cancer and provides better overall health. Many research show that meat is beneficial for overall health, but they suggest that it may increase risks of having cancer. When looking at the big picture, the arguments on the No side are less convincing.

After doing research we can see that there are benefits and disadvantages to both diets. However, there's more research and evidence that show that the debate is leaning towards the yes side. Meat provides healthy nutritional benefits and plays an important role in the body, but the same thing can also be said with plants. Plants provide antioxidants and phytochemicals that can be essential for protecting the body. There's lots of studies that provide evidence for prevention of disease that leads to cancer by both diets. Some studies show that proteins from meat are associated with cancer, being a vegetarian creates a strong immune system and metabolism that prevents such disease. On the other hand, meat has known to provide high levels of protein that have satiating effects which can help with maintaining body weight. This can prevent obesity and diabetes which potentially come with greater consequences such as cancer. The outcomes of many studies suggest that there is a strong correlation between meat and cancer. Preparing meat requires high temperatures which burn off carcinogenic chemicals. A study provides evidence that as meat consumption is increased, the more likely individuals are to be at risk of cancer. Although, there's lots of supporting evidence that consuming meat is related to cancer, there is no direct causation. A study done by Oxford shows that vegetarians were more victims of cancer than omnivores, but it is important to note that their sample size was small for such a study. No more evidence was found that also had the same outcomes.

Considering all the arguments, we can conclude that there is a greater amount of evidence on the yes side and that vegetarians could have a decreased chance of cancer.


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Effect of Vegetarian Diet on Reducing Risk of Cancer. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Effect of Vegetarian Diet on Reducing Risk of Cancer.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
Effect of Vegetarian Diet on Reducing Risk of Cancer. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2023].
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