Animal-Based Nutrients Linked With Higher Risk of Stomach and Esophageal Cancers

Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that a diet high in cholesterol, animal protein and vitamin B12 is linked to risk of a specific type of cancer of the stomach and esophagus that has been increasing rapidly.

The researchers also found that plant-based nutrients such as dietary fiber, dietary beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin C and vitamin B6 were associated with lower risk of these kinds of cancers. They further found that regular use of vitamin C supplements was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the risk of cancer in the middle and lower parts of the stomach.

The rate of a specific type of esophageal and stomach cancer, known as adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and gastric cardia, has increased by 300 percent since the mid-1970s, according to lead author Susan Mayne, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine, and associate director of the Yale Cancer Center. To identify reasons for this rapid increase, the United States National Cancer Institute launched a large study at three centers, including Yale, the University of Washington and Columbia University.

The researchers interviewed patients throughout Connecticut, New Jersey and western Washington State and compared the nutrient intake of 1,095 people with stomach or esophageal cancer to that of 687 healthy people in a control group. The team also looked at the participants’ use of nutrient supplements. Their results are published in the October issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

“We found that many animal-based nutrients found in foods of animal origin are strongly associated with risk of developing these types of cancers and we were able to identify nutrients that presumably would be protective,” said Mayne. “We also found that regular users of vitamin C supplements were at significantly lower risk of stomach cancer.”

In a separate analysis of these data, the research team found that obesity is strongly linked with risk of these cancers. “The increase in the prevalence of obesity in the United States certainly contributes to the time trends,” said Mayne. “Our results suggest that prevention strategies for these cancers should emphasize increased consumption of plant foods, decreased consumption of foods of animal origin with the possible exception of dairy products, and control of obesity.”

Other researchers on the study include Principal Investigator of the Yale site Harvey A. Risch and Robert Dubrow at Yale; A. Brian West, previously at Yale and now at New York University Medical Center; Wong-Ho Chow and Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr. of the U.S. National Cancer Institute; Marilie D. Gammon, previously at Columbia University and now at the University of North Carolina; Habibul Ahsan and Heidi Rotterdam of Columbia University; Janet B. Schoenberg, from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services; Thomas L. Vaughan, Diana C. Farrow and Janet L. Stanford from the University of Washington; and William J. Blot from the International Epidemiology Institute.

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