Study: AICR recommendations have merit

Listening to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) was never a questionable act to begin with. But in an effort to cast aside as much doubt about the validity of AICR recommendations as possible, a new study tracks the diets and disease rates of some 380,000 patients over the course of 13 years, finding that those who chose to follow AICR lifestyle suggestions did indeed fare better.  

According to the report, those who followed the below listed AICR/ World Cancer Research Fund (seven out of the ten listed in the previous guideline report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective)  regimen for cancer prevention decreased their risk of dying from all diseases — including cancer, circulatory disease and respiratory disease — by 34 percent when compared to those who did not partake in the advice:

  • Body fatness. Having a healthy body-mass index (BMI) in the lower range (indicative of low body fat) reduced the likelihood of dying from any disease by 22 percent compared to those with the highest BMI.
  • Physical activity. 
Being active for at least 30 minutes a day reduced the risk of death from all diseases by 15 percent compared to those who were inactive.
  • Calorie-dense foods and drinks. 
Avoiding sugary drinks and foods that promote weight gain reduced the risk of death by 9 percent compared to those who consumed these foods in high amounts.
  • Plant-based diet. 
Along with staying lean, eating a plant-based diet emerged as one the most powerfully protective factors in the study, with diets high in plant foods (at least five servings per day) reducing the risk of dying from any disease by 21 percent compared to those who ate the least.
  • Red and processed meat. 
Not independently associated with any one cause of death, but low intake was associated with the overall 34 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality observed in the study.
  • Alcohol. 
Following the recommendation to limit alcohol consumption reduced risk of death from cancer by 21 percent, and overall risk of death from all diseases by 8 percent.
  • Breastfeeding. The AICR/WCRF expert report was the first to issue a recommendation on breastfeeding for cancer prevention, and this new study was the first to apply that recommendation to mortality.  Women who breastfeed their children have a 17 percent reduced risk for death from all diseases compared to women who do not.

"We've known for years that following AICR's lifestyle advice could cut the worldwide incidence of cancer cases by about one-third," said Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD, AICR Director of Research, in a news release. "Today we have evidence on mortality, which shows that this same practical advice could also save millions of lives from cancer and other chronic diseases around the world."

The specific recommendations associated with the most significant risk reduction, researchers found, had to do with avoiding obesity (22 percent lower risk) and subscribing to a plant-based diet (lowered risk by 21 percent).

"Following any one of our recommendations offers some protection from cancer, chronic disease and early death, but your overall lifestyle is key – making these healthy choices most of the time," added Alice Bender, MS, RD, AICR's nutrition advisor, in a prepared statement."This latest study confirms that AICR's Recommendations for Cancer Prevention outline an overall approach to diet, weight and physical activity that offers powerful protection," she continued, "but it also shows that public health efforts to improve school lunches, increase physical activity, support breastfeeding and restrict alcohol consumption make a measurable savings in human lives."

The study will be published in the March 27 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.