Swedish tabloid warns of “low carb cancer”

Doctor fears: Fatty foods will give you  "LCHF-cancer"

Doctor fears: Fatty foods will give you “LCHF-cancer”

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 PostDoctor Fears: Fatty Foods Will Give You LCHF-Cancer

Google translated Swedish articles:

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 Hardly, this is an outdated belief.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

Incidence of breast cancer in Sweden 1970 - 2010

Incidence of breast cancer in Sweden 1970 – 2010

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:

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.


More on cancer


  1. Mahas
    According to what I know about metabolism of cancer cells and their depedancy on glucose as fuel/power for growth, the role of health of mitochnodria to health of the whole cell - Warburg hypothesis, I do not have any fear :-), Ketogenic diets ( very low carb diets ) have been used to treat cancer :-) - effectively, or at leat patients tolerate ChT and RT much more better than without these diet regimes
  2. Zepp
    I do se a conection betwen LCHF and cancer!

    Cancer is bad, fat is bad.. (bad+bad).. strong conections!!

    But I have a solution.. cancer is bad, fat is healty.. (bad+healty= zero)!

    Problem solved!! :)

  3. TFR
    Also, breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and other type of cancers (ovarian, endometrial) for women and for their breastfed daughters. Generation of women that are now getting cancer didn't have very high rates of breastfeeding. Breast milk is full of healthy fats and cholesterol.
  4. Katie
    Also re: breast cancer -- estrogen-based contraception methods!
  5. Jo
    Another possibility is an increase in diagnosis. What are the death rates like? Some countries have found an increase in diagnosis through screening but no change in death rates. Just a thought. I agree with your suggestions too.
  6. Nads
    There are studies that link polyunsaturated fats with cancer unfortunately, but doubt if LCHFers are doing poly fats.
  7. sten b
    Carbs are linked to waves of blood sugar, usually at least 3 baths a day that also flooded us with cancer related insulin and IGF-1 growth factor every time, apart from the hunger pangs... Even protein gives some insulin response, but fat alone gives next to none, and provides stable blood sugar without all the mentioned risks. Less insulin less risk?

    That PUFAs have been implicated in cancer should come as no surprise as those fats by design are unstable, i.e. go rancid or oxidize rapidly unless pampered with large amounts of antioxidants; the very reason antioxidants suddenly became well known kids on the block out of the blue..., when cheap PUFAs were spreading worldwide, like cancer?

    Good grass fed butter fat and rendered tallow has now become staples in our household.
    Last year we got 10 kgs of tallow in August, when it is - supposed to be at least - rich in natural sulphated (?) Vitamin D3, and we then rendered it and it should last to next August.
    A lot better than making biodiesel out of good fats. The way I see it!

  8. Wade Henderson
    "Modern, well designed studies have shown that a low-fat diet neither prevents breast cancer"

    you link to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16467232

    However going to that link and reading further suggests that this "low-fat" study was a rather poor example of "low-fat".

    The "low-fat" group ended up with a "self-reported" fat intake of 29% of calories, closer to their orginal pre-study levels than to the stated study goal of 20%.
    Also, the women in the study were limited to between age 50 and 79.

    A fair review of that study is found here

    I'm not sure anyone has proof either way, but that study provided limited conclusions about a diet that itself was a extremely mild version of low fat, done in a very narrow group of women.

    Everyone seems so sure, and everyone seems to have proof.

    I wonder, are their any studies on groups of women where the intervention group consumes 50% or 60% of calories as fat over 12 years? I
    I'd like to see three groups. The control at 37 to 38 percent. The "low fat" 20% or less, and the high fat group at 56% or higher. Then compare 20% to 56% and see how it comes out regarding cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, etc.

  9. Hannak Olson is correct, that there may be both a correlation and a mechanism for omega-6 fatty acids to promote cancer (breast and prostate) especially in the absence of adequate fish oil omega 3s.
    But that is hardly likely in Sweden if it's butter and other animal fats that are popular.
    Generally women who eat more animal fat in general populations are more likely to smoke and have higher BMI but this might not be true of HFLC dieters.
    If the butter is going in cakes, then maybe its a slight risk factor.

    A high cholesterol without cholesterol-lowering drug use was not associated with breast cancer risk (HR: 0.99, 95% CI: 0.85, 1.15) in the entire population.

    The risk of breast cancer decreased with increasing total fat intake (trend p 0.01) whereas the risk increased with increasing intake of available carbohydrates (trend p = 0.002). The odds ratios for women in the highest compared with the lowest quintile of energy-adjusted intake were 0.81 for total fat and 1.30 for available carbohydrates. Starch was the chief contributor to the positive association with available carbohydrates. High intakes of polyunsaturated and unsaturated fatty acids (i.e., polyunsaturated fatty acids plus oleic acid) were associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer (odds ratios for highest vs lowest quintile 0.70 and 0.74, respectively). Conversely, the intakes of saturated fatty acids, protein, and fibre were not significantly associated with breast-cancer risk.

    The association between total serum cholesterol and triglycerides and the incidence rate of breast cancer has been examined in 242 incident cases of breast cancer that developed among 24,329 Norwegian women during 11–14 years of follow-up. At the time of lipid measurement they were between 35 and 51 years of age.

    There was an inverse relation between serum cholesterol and risk of breast cancer which was confined to women diagnosed before the age of 51. The incidence rate ratio was 0.53 (95% confidence limits, 0.32 and 0.88) for women in the highest quartile of serum cholesterol (mean = 8.52 mM = 329 mg/100 ml) compared to women in the lowest quartile (mean = 5.28 mM = 204 mg/100 ml), and the relation displayed a negative trend over quartiles of cholesterol (x2 for trend = 3.94, P = 0.05).
    We conclude that there is an inverse relation between serum cholesterol and breast cancer risk among women diagnosed before the age of 51 years. The findings indicate that the negative association cannot easily be attributed to a preclinical effect of the cancer.

  10. 1 comment removed
  11. It's been known since before 1950 that polyunsaturated fats are bad detrimental to your health.

    You will lose weight on a low carb diet. But as others are finding out. Your health is closely behind.

  12. Vince Dawson
    There are so many studies out there now using speculation as 'evidence' It's all getting very muddled. We can all draw our conclusions from comparisons. For example, we now own and drive more cars than thirty years ago and watch more TV...... Water is drunk from plastic bottles.... Food microwaved in plastic cartons.... Breast feeding rates reduced... More drug related birth control... Farming techniques have changed dramatically.... The list goes on and on.
    I am not totally convinced though, until some real solid studies have been conducted that we can rest all the blame for increased cancer rates on just diet alone ?
  13. Steve Grover
    I wouldn't trust ANY study done during or before the 1950's. The anti-fat craze of the 60's through the present day mostly stems from a famous flawed 1950's study in which the idea that fat causes heart disease was based by using data from six countries but excluding data from another 16.

    If you already know what conclusion you want to come up with it's easy to do if you focus on certain data and ignore the rest. Unfortunately, the media and the public ran with the scare-mongering fake results. So now we have epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes in a society that took seriously the notion that a low fat bland and putrid diet was the best for us, while there was no penalty for consuming unlimited amounts of sugar, since it has no fat.

  14. Nailzz
    Wow this is really irresponsible

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