Can Energy Balance Prevent Cancer?

CURE, Fall 2010, Volume 9, Issue 3

Research suggests that energy balance—maintaining an ideal weight by consuming only as many calories as you expend—can reduce the risk of cancer.

Energy balance—maintaining an ideal weight by consuming only as many calories as you expend—is believed to be effective in improving treatment outcomes and reducing risk of cancer recurrence. But can it also help prevent certain types of cancers? A growing body of research suggests the answer is yes.

According to Melinda Irwin, PhD, MPH,observational studies have shown that obesity and inactivity play a definite role in the development of certain forms of cancer. These studies asked men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s to complete a thorough questionnaire that measured their weight, height, daily diet, and physical activity level. The participants were then followed for several decades to see whether they developed cancer.

“When researchers looked back at [the participants’] weight, diet, and activity level, it was found that those who were healthier did not develop these cancers, compared to those who were overweight, ate poorly, or were inactive,” Irwin notes.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reports that the risk of at least 12 cancers can be lowered through a healthy diet, physical activity, and weight management. These include endometrial, esophageal, oral, stomach, colon, pancreatic, breast, lung, kidney, gallbladder, liver, and prostate cancers.

The AICR estimates that up to 69 percent of esophageal cancers, 45 percent of colon cancers, and 38 percent of breast cancers might be prevented through improved diet, physical activity, and weight management.

Among the AICR’s recommendations for overall better health:

> Limit your consumption of red meat and processed meats, both of which have been associated with an increased risk of colo-rectal cancer.

> Increase your intake of fruits and non-starchy vegetables. There is some evidence that this kind of dietary change can reduce one’s risk of esophageal cancer.

> Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages to one per day for women and two per day for men. Alcoholic beverages are the source of empty calories, and there is also convincing evidence that alcohol increases breast cancer risk among women.

> Work to eliminate excess body fat, especially around the waist, through diet and exercise. Excess fat around the belly area may increase risk of gallbladder and liver cancer and, among women, endometrial cancer.

> Add 30 minutes or more of physical activity or exercise to your daily schedule. The benefits of exercise are numerous, from improving cardiovascular fitness to relieving stress.

Observational studies have shown that obesity and inactivity play a definite role in the development of certain forms of cancer.