Low-carb and high-fat diets have become extremely popular in Sweden. As many as one Swede in five is said to be on some kind of LCHF diet. Swedes just don’t fear fat like they used to.
But as you can imagine there are still a few old-fashioned fat-fearing “experts” around.
The other day was one of those days. It was once again time for headlines with imaginative warnings about LCHF. I use the word “imaginative” as the alert is, as usual, not based on any study on a LCHF diet. Instead this is about speculation about selected statistics. And of course a physician, who without knowing, “fears” that LCHF is what is behind an increase in breast cancer rates.
Here’s the translated headline from the Swedish tabloid The Evening Post: Doctor Fears: Fatty Foods Will Give You LCHF-Cancer
Google translated Swedish articles:
- Metro: Doctors warn of LCHF-cancer (article including comments by me)
- Expressen: A GI and LCHF diet may increase the risk of breast cancer (also with comments)
- NT: A GI and LCHF diet may increase the risk of cancer (wherein a wise expert summarizes what has caused the increase in breast cancer rates: “no one really knows, they just believe”.)
A Disproven Theory
Do you get breast cancer from fatty foods? Hardly, this is an outdated belief. Modern, well designed studies have shown that a low-fat diet neither prevents breast cancer nor does it make people with breast cancer any healthier. It’s an old and disproven theory.
There are much better explanations for the statistics.
Obesity and breast cancer
Breast cancer is much more prevalent in overweight people. And the incidence of being overweight and obese has gradually tripled in Sweden since the late 80’s, and the incidence is apparently still slowly increasing. Thus it’s quite expected that breast cancer is on the rise as well.
The increase in breast cancer rates in Sweden is hardly associated with the LCHF diet. This is obvious if you look at the long-term trend, and not just speculate on the last few years’ statistics.
Breast Cancer Statistics Since 1970
The increase in number of breast cancer cases in Sweden in the last 40 years is pictured above. As you can see the cancer rate has gradually increased during the entire period. I fail to see that something in particular happened at the time when LCHF recently became popular (around 2006).
The above statistics are available to anybody, from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare’s statistical database. Had one taken about a minute to look at the statistics, one would have seen that the headline warnings were pure fantasy. But, of course, all journalists know the basic rule behind selling news:
Never fact-check a good story.
The Real Cause of Cancer
So, if it isn’t LCHF that is causing the increase in breast cancer rates (which has been going on for at least 40 years) what is it then? We don’t know. But here is my speculation:
I think that the cause of the increase in breast cancer rates is the same as the cause of the obesity epidemic during the same time. Too much sugar, too many simple, bad carbohydrates. Those that are found in junk food and sodas, which have dramatically increased in consumption during the same time period.
There are many studies showing this association. Some examples from recent years, Google translated from my Swedish blog:
- Soda drinkers get cancer more often
- Sweet baked goods and cancer
- Whole grain bread and cancer
- Sodas and cancer
- High blood sugar, high cancer risk
- Swedish Television: Simple carbohydrates increase cancer rates?)
- More insulin, more breast cancer?
- Cancer, insulin and Lantus
- Carbohydrates increase the risk for colon and uterine cancer
- Carbohydrates and the risk for breast cancer
- Another large study supports the GI diet
Statistical associations like the ones above can’t prove that long-term consumption of too many bad carbohydrates may cause cancer. The fact that such foods raise blood sugar and levels of the cell division stimulating hormones insulin and IGF-1, does not prove either that this may cause cancer in the long run. But it’s a clear and worrying possibility.
The quickly disproven speculation about “LCHF-cancer” in Swedish headlines is, on the contrary, not of much concern. It’s the silliest LCHF alert in a long time.