Fat Chance: Do Fats Cause Cancer or Cardiac Disease?


Based on the posts “$415 Million Study Says Fat Won't Cause Cancer or Heart Disease,” “Three Answers to the Low-Fat Futility Study” and “Low-Fat People May Have Less Cancer” on the website SportsGeezer.com


Edited (with Introduction) by Dr. Don Rose, Writer, Life Alert




When nearly half a billion dollars (yes, billion with a “b”) is spent on a study, people listen. Especially when the results seem to go against current medical thinking; in this case, a $415 million study concluded that low fat diets do not help against cancer or heart disease. However, rebuttals soon followed. Read all about both sides in the article below. --Don Rose




Cancer/Heart Study Says Low Fat Has No Effect


In early 2006, the New York Times reported on a $415 million study claiming that a low-fat diet has no effect on cancer or heart disease. Such a claim was bound to generate a great deal of attention, and many reactions. The NYTimes report detailed how, in the federal study, nearly 49,000 women ages 50 to 79 were followed for eight years, and those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they wanted. The study, which can be found in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was so large and expensive that many might consider it to be the final word on the matter.


Reaction to the Controversial Fat Study


When it appeared, the $415 million study suggesting that a low-fat diet does virtually nothing to reduce cancer and heart disease was immediately acclaimed as definitive and authoritative. (When you spend that kind of money, you might be inclined to believe you've got things right, right?) However, those in the “low-fat diets are healthy” camp were bound to put up a fight. Rebuttals soon surfaced in response to the study, with many health and dietary experts stepping up to take shots at the findings.  


Three publications that put out clarifications, counterarguments or counterexamples to the “low fat = no effect” study:

  • the Los Angeles Times, which pointed out that, among other things, women who ate the most fat when the study began, and therefore reduced their fat intake by a higher percentage, showed greater reductions in breast cancer risk — up to 20 percent;
  • BU Today, which reminded people that the women in the low-fat diet group were originally supposed to cut back to eating 20 percent of their calories from fat [from 38 percent], yet they couldn’t do it -- they ended up between 24 and 29 percent, which means a much smaller difference between them and the control; and
  • the Washington Post, which reported that the study's findings do show that eating more fruit and vegetables as well as less saturated and trans fats cuts the risk of heart disease and cancer.


Low-Fat People May Have Less Cancer


It may or may not be true that low-fat diets have an effect on cancer, but apparently low-fat people do. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is persuaded by recent research showing that fat cells release small amounts of hormones and other growth factors that can spur healthy cells to grow and divide at an accelerated rate. That, as the Washington Post reported, may increase the risk of cancer.


Consequently, the AICR is promoting the concept of "energy balance” -- where one’s caloric intake is roughly equal to one’s caloric expenditure. In other words, we should try to ensure that calories consumed equals calories burned.


How to achieve this? AICR recommends these three steps:

  • increase the proportion of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet;
  • reduce portion size of your meals; and
  • increase your physical activity.

All three steps sound sensible. For more thoughts on energy balance from the AICR, click here.



The article above is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. The information provided is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to review the original article, and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.


Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

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