Do You Want Fries With That? (Or Polyphenols?)

March 4, 2015

By Dr. Paul Clayton, Chief Scientific Advisor, Gencor

Several previous studies have found that eating meat cooked at high temperatures is a risk factor for prostate and other cancers. A new piece of research carried out at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle finds that consuming deep-fried foods such as French fries, fried chicken and doughnuts more than once a week appears to raise the risk of prostate cancer by around a third  – and the effect seems to be slightly stronger with regard to more aggressive forms of the disease (Stott-Miller et al ‘14). Likely mechanisms involve the formation, at high cooking temperatures, of known carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocylic amines, acrylamide and other noxious compounds; which implies that these same foods will raise breast cancer risk in women.

This was not a prospective study; rather, it involved re-visiting data generated from two previous studies and re-analysing the dietary records of men who contracted prostate cancer vs matched, healthy controls. Such a study cannot differentiate between a causative and a merely associative link, but the fact that high temperature cooking is known to produce carcinogens is persuasive. On the other hand – and there always is another hand in science – it is also perfectly possible and indeed likely that the men who consumed more deep-fried foods were eating fewer fruits and vegetables. This meant that they were consuming lower levels of polyphenols, which have an array of anti-cancer effects, and were thus less protected than the controls who ate less deep fried foods, and more fruits and vegetables.

This possibility is supported by another study of 200 men with prostate cancer. In this clinical trial, a high-potency cocktail of polyphenols given for 6 months was effective in reducing PSA levels by nearly two thirds, and slowing the progression of cancer (Thomas et al ’14). This is in line with other groups’ findings (ie Frattaroli et al ’08, Kenfield et al ‘14).  

The take-away from this (perhaps an unfortunate figure of speech) is that the odd doughnut or hamburger will not kill you if it is part of a really healthy diet. The problem, however, is that most of us live in a very toxic food universe.

Take, for example, the shockingly high levels of sugar added to our foods. Recent surveys by Which Magazine (Which ‘14) and Action on Sugar (AoS ’14) found that most non-diet fizzy drinks exceed the WHO recommended levels for free sugars, and many own-brand ready meals and most non-diet fizzy drinks contain roughly twice the recommended levels. Sainsbury’s sweet & sour chicken with rice and Tesco’s Everyday Value sweet & sour chicken rice contained 50.7g and 48.4g respectively – around ten teaspoons – in a meal for one; as do single serves of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer, Sainsbury’s Cloudy Lemonade and many other carbonated drinks. (This is roughly twice the 25.5g found in a standard size bar of milk chocolate.)

If you’re eating this much hidden sugar then the likelihood of becoming overweight must increase, even as the nutrient density of the food you eat declines. This is a diet full of pro-inflammatory compounds and depleted in anti-inflammatory ones; and it is hardly surprising, given our toxic food universe, that waves of obesity, chronic inflammation and chronic degenerative disease are swamping our ability to provide health care. A new analysis, for example, has just found that the global number of overweight and obese individuals rocketed from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion (ie a third of the world’s population) in 2013; that no country has successfully reduced obesity rates in 33 years; and that we are, as a species, getting fatter at a progressively younger age (Ng et al ’14). Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancers inevitably follow in our increasingly broad wake.

Our toxic food universe forms the upper of a pair of millstones that is grinding us into disease and premature death. The lower millstone is, of course, pharmaceutical medicine which is specific, expensive and very toxic (Starfield 2000). Seen in an historical perspective, modern medicine does little more than suppress the symptoms of diseases that have become rife due to our failure to maintain the lifestyles of our great-grandparents. This is why public health has become too expensive to continue in its present form, and too critical to be left to the medical profession..

Last year W.H.O. director Margaret Chan called for the food industry to assume responsibility for its toxic products and either mend their ways or have mandatory health warnings stamped on their packs. As part of the industry response Tesco, the UK's largest food retailer, announced that they would ban sweets and chocolates from its checkouts. Not wanting to be vulnerable to any ‘nanny state’ arguments, they claimed that a survey of customers had showed overwhelming support for the ban. Frankly I don’t care why they did it, it is a positive move.

The times may, at last, be changing.



AoS May ’14.

Frattaroli J, Weidner G, Dnistrian AM, Kemp C, Daubenmier JJ, Marlin RO, Crutchfield L, Yglecias L, Carroll PR, Ornish D. Clinical events in prostate cancer lifestyle trial: results from two years of follow-up. Urology. 2008 Dec;72(6):1319-23

Kenfield SA, DuPre N, Richman EL, Stampfer MJ, Chan JM, Giovannucci EL. Mediterranean diet and prostate cancer risk and mortality in the health professionals follow-up study. Eur Urol. 2014 May;65(5):887-94

Ng M, Fleming T, Robinson M et al. Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet, published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60460-8

Starfield B. Is US Health really the best in the world? JAMA 2000, Jul 26;284(4):483-5.

Stott-Miller M, Neuhouser ML, Stanford JL. Consumption of deep-fried foods and risk of prostate cancer. The Prostate, published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/pros.22643

Thomas R, Williams M, Sharma H, Chaudry A, Bellamy P. A double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trial evaluating the effect of a polyphenol-rich whole food supplement on PSA progression in men with prostate cancer—the UK NCRN Pomi-T study. Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Disease (2014) 17, 180–186

Which Magazine, May 2014.