They develop fewer cancers of the blood, bladder and stomach
Vegetarians are generally less likely than meat eaters to develop cancer but this does not apply to all forms of the disease, a major study has found.
The study involving 60,000 people found those who followed a vegetarian diet developed notably fewer cancers of the blood, bladder and stomach. But the apparently protective effect of vegetarian did not seem to stretch to bowel cancer, a major killer.
Researchers from universities in the UK and New Zealand followed 61,566 British men and women. They included meat-eaters, those who ate fish but not meat, and those who ate neither meat nor fish.
Overall, their results suggested that while in the general population about 33 people in 100 will develop cancer during their lifetime, for those who do not eat meat that risk is reduced to about 29 in 100.
There were striking differences in rates of stomach cancer. Although the numbers of cases were small, fish-eaters and vegetarians were about a third as likely to develop the disease as meat-eaters. It is thought N-nitroso compounds found in these meats may damage DNA, while the high temperatures they are cooked at may also produce carcinogens.
Professor Tim Key, the lead author, said it was impossible to draw strong conclusions from this one single study. ‘At the moment these findings are not strong enough to ask for particularly large changes in the diets of people following an average balanced diet,’ he said.
‘Vegetarian diets tend be lower in fat and higher in fibre, but they can require careful planning to ensure necessary protein and vitamins – notably B12, which is mainly derived from animal products – are taken in sufficient amounts.’