Carbohydrate Quality Linked to Lung Cancer Risk

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Carbohydrate Quality Linked to Lung Cancer Risk

The quality of carbohydrates in a person’s diet is linked to the risk of developing lung cancer, according to a a new study published in the journal Lung Cancer.

Past studies have drawn inconsistent conclusions about the role of dietary carbohydrates on lung cancer risk — in part because there hasn’t been consistency in how carbohydrates have been broken down into categories for analysis. So for this study, researchers wanted to study different types of carbohydrates in as much detail as possible based on participants’ self-reported food intake. The participants were 113,096 people ages 55 to 74 recruited across the United States as part of a large-scale study called the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. Participants completed a detailed diet history questionnaire upon being recruited for the study, which took place in 2006. Participants were followed through 2015, during which cases of cancer were recorded through self-reporting and looking at participants’ medical records.

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Quality of carbohydrate linked to risk of lung cancer

Based on participants’ dietary history, each person’s diet was classified according to its content of total carbohydrate, fiber and whole grains, and based on its glycemic index (a measure of how foods raise blood glucose) and glycemic load (which combines the glycemic index with the amount of a food someone consumes). The researchers then compared each of these factors with the likelihood of developing lung cancer during the follow-up period.

Overall, consuming less carbohydrate and a lower glycemic load was linked to a lower risk of developing lung cancer. But digging into the details, not every form of carbohydrate fit this pattern. Consuming more dietary fiber was linked to a lower lung cancer risk — when participants were placed in four groups based on how much fiber they consumed, the top group (which consumed an average of about 30 grams of fiber daily) was 38% less likely to develop lung cancer than the bottom group (which consumed an average of about 8.8 grams of fiber daily). When participants were placed in four groups according to their consumption of whole grains, the top group (which consumed an average of 2.3 servings daily) was 27% less likely to develop lung cancer than the bottom group (which consumed an average of 0.3 servings daily).

Certain forms of carbohydrate were found to be especially bad when it came to lung cancer risk. When participants were grouped according to their consumption of high-glycemic-index foods, the top group was 19% more likely to develop lung cancer than the bottom group. Similarly, when they were placed in four groups based on their intake of refined carbohydrates from soft drinks, the top group was 23% more likely to develop lung cancer than the bottom group.

The researchers concluded that “carbohydrates and fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains are associated with lower lung cancer risk,” while “refined carbohydrates from processed food, such as soft drinks, appear to increase” this risk. The good news for people with diabetes is that based these results, following a diet that is less likely to result in blood glucose spikes — by consuming fiber-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes as your main sources of carbohydrate — may also help prevent lung cancer. More research is needed to find out whether people with diabetes, in particular, experience the same benefit from these dietary patterns as people without diabetes when it comes to lung cancer risk.

Want to learn more about diabetes and lung health? Read “Diabetes and Lung Health” and try your hand at our “Diabetes and Your Lungs” quiz.

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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