Consumption of Western food can raise cancer risks in Arab men: US expert

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

French fries, hot dogs, burgers, and chicken wings contain high amount of omega-6 fatty acids. ©Getty Images
French fries, hot dogs, burgers, and chicken wings contain high amount of omega-6 fatty acids. ©Getty Images

Related tags Fast food Omega-6 fatty acid Cancer

Consumption of Western food high in omega-6, red meat, and sugar increases the risk of developing prostate cancer, as observed in Arab men.

The “risk could change quickly”​ if they adopt a burger-and-fries Western-style diet in place of traditional meals, said David Levy, an urologist at Cleveland Clinic.

Levy observed that when Arab men first move to North America or Northern Europe, their rates of prostate cancer did not initially diverge significantly from others back home.

However, their sons, who were born and raised in the West, displayed similar levels of the illness as their peers of European descent.

“When men of Middle Eastern and North African origin adopt a westernised lifestyle, their risk revert to that of the majority of the westernised population,​” he said.

“I think dietary factors have a very, very strong role in that.”

“When you drink sugary sodas and fruit juice, and eat candy, cakes, and animal-based protein, your insulin resistance factors go up, your glycemic index changes, and you adversely affect the fatty acid ratios.”​ 

“You have changed the entire environment in which the cells live. And that changes the genetic behaviour. It is a lifestyle dietary response, resulting in an environmental change, that, in my mind, as far as we can tell, invites an increased incidence of prostate cancer.”

Levy’s observations also echoed that of a study conducted at the American University of Beirut, which explored the differences in risk factors, incidence, distribution, and control of the disease between the Middle Eastern Arab countries and some developed countries in Europe and North America.

In contrast to the Western diets, the study concluded that the “Mediterranean diet has a protective effect on a subset of the Arab population​.”

Mainly consisting of lentils, tomatoes, eggplant, walnuts, broad beans, and pomegranate, the Mediterranean diet is abundant in omega-3 - which is believed to have a protective effect against some tumours.

Prostate cancer was the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer (1.3 million cases, 7.1%), according to a report released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last month.

In men, prostate cancer (13.5%) is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both developed and developing countries, trailing only lung cancer (14.5%).

Problematic food

The consumption of meat and dairy produce was particularly problematic due to the distribution of fatty acids within these foods.

While both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential nutrients, Levy cautioned that consumption of the latter should not exceed the former by more than five times.

Examples of food high in omega-6 include french fries, hot dogs, burgers, and chicken wings.

“The fatty acid ratios in the blood that are associated with animal protein consumption are consistent with higher trends in prostate cancer diagnosis,”​ he said.

Diets high in red meat, dairy, and sugar are also associated with metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

These conditions are linked to a higher incidence of prostate cancer, he added.

 “Men with all of these conditions have an increased likelihood of developing prostate cancer – and they are far more common amongst followers of the Westernised diet than of those on Mediterranean or plant-based diets. We see the correlation not only with prostate cancer, but also breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer.”

He added that eliminating meat and dairy from the diet has resulted in a significant decrease in the rate of prostate cell growth in men with untreated prostate cancer.  

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