Study Suggests Carbohydrate-Rich Diet, Obesity Linked to Esophageal Cancer Risk

A study slated for release in an upcoming edition of The American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that rising esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma) rates in the U.S. may be due to recent dietary trends that emphasize heavy carbohydrate consumption.

Although the cause of esophageal cancer has yet to be determined, previous studies have suggested that obesity is a risk factor for several types of cancer, including those affecting the thyroid, kidney, uterus colon, gall bladder and esophagus. However, this study is one of the first to suggest that carbohydrates, besides being a “common contributor to obesity,” may themselves correlate with esophageal cancer rates.

Using linear regression models, researchers from Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland determined that the recent uptick in esophageal cancer cases – which swelled from 300,000 cases in 1973 to 2.1 million cases in 2001 – correlated with “trends of increased carbohydrate intake and obesity” across the same time period. In one such model, the researchers determined that the trend was particularly significant among those who consumed a high percentage of calories from corn syrup (which, for the purpose of this study, represented refined carbohydrates) as well as among those who were obese.

Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that “high carbohydrate intake and obesity can account for at least some of the rise in esophageal adenocarcinoma,” but caution that further study is needed to confirm these trends.

Acknowledging that the current five-year rate of survival for esophageal cancer remains below 20 percent, the study’s lead author suggests that “if we can reverse the trends in refined carbohydrate intake and obesity in the U.S., we may be able to reduce the incidence of esophageal cancer.”

And there you have it, yet another (sound) study explaining the damaging effect of carbohydrates on the human body. But what do you suppose will be the fall out? Will this finally be the news America needs to change its diet or will it just be another evening news item that causes a stir but is all but forgotten come the morning? We don’t know about you, but we’re hedging our bets on the latter!

But how should this news impact you? Consider it a teaching point, a feather in the hat if you will, for advocating the Primal Health lifestyle to coworkers, colleagues, family and friends who can’t possibly understand why you can – and easily nonetheless – say no to the pizza buffer or forgo a mid-morning frappuccino run. Or, at the very least, consider it just another reason to keep on keepin’ on!

Further Reading:

Simple vs. Complex Carbs

Ten Awesome Carbs

Dr. Briffa: Why Carbs Can Turn Your Liver into Foie Gras

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11 thoughts on “Study Suggests Carbohydrate-Rich Diet, Obesity Linked to Esophageal Cancer Risk”

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  1. Man, it’s the Week of Gross Images in the blogosphere. First Fear and Loathing in the Kitchen and her (well, not really her) barbecued dog paws (, and now you and your cancerous esophagus.

    Isn’t there a link between esophageal cancer and GERD? Or is that somebody’s untested hypothesis, like so many other things that we are led to believe? There are a lot of anecdotes (including my own) about how people find their acid reflux clears up when they ditch sugar, grain, and potatoes. I have a whole list of things that cleared up much faster than would be expected from mere weight loss, and acid reflux is one of them. I found it got better after only a few weeks, when I had lost only a few pounds. (Another example is joint pain, supposedly “caused” by overweight.) Whenever I hear a correlation like this, I wonder if obesity and the other conditions are effects of some other cause. Like, you know, excessive insulin or glucose intolerance.

    Anyway, if the link between GERD and esophageal cancer is real, and if staying away from grains and sugar does improve GERD (big ifs), it stands to reason that staying away from grains and sugar would improve cancer risk.

  2. Actually, when I said “glucose intolerance,” I meant “gluten intolerance.” But really, both could be causes of some nasty stuff in our poor ol’ bods.

  3. “But what do you suppose will be the fall out?”

    I can see the headlines now! “Obesity and high fat intake causes esophageal cancer!”

    I’ll be surprised when the media starts to report what studies actually do find.

  4. carbohydrates – which translate to high blood sugars have several effects on key bodily defences and vulnerabilities.

    first, cancer cells live off glucose – that is their only source of food. A study carried out by Johns Hopkins researchers found evidence that some cancer cells are such incredible sugar junkies that they’ll self-destruct when deprived of glucose.[Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 1998; 95: 1511-1516]

    second, high blood glucose causes oxidative stress (Wikipedia: AGEs – The total state of oxidative and peroxidative stress on the healthy body, and the accumulation of AGE-related damage is proportional to the dietary intake of exogenous (preformed) AGEs, the consumption of sugars with a propensity towards glycation such as fructose and galactose.)

    third, high blood glucose destroys or reduces white cell counts – reducing the body’s first line of defence against rouge cells (see: 1. Cohn ZA, Morse SI. Functional and metabolic properties of polymorphonuclear leucocytes. 1. Observations on the requirements and consequences of particle ingestion. J Exptl Med 1960; 111: 667
    2. Sanchez A, et al. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Am J Clin Nutr 1973; 26: 1180-84
    3. Ringsdorf WM jr, Cheraskin E and Ramsey RR jr. Sucrose, Neutrophilic Phagocytosis, and Resistance to Disease. Dent Surv 1976; 52 (12): 46-48 )

    and fourth, high blood sugar causes insulin response, which can act like insulin-like-growth hormone and cause cell proliferation
    (Taubes …pp215: Scientists believe that Insulin-like Growth Hormone (IGF) acts as an intermediary between the growth hormone secreted by the pituitary gland and the food sourced in the diet – to create growth through food utilisation.
    SO: less food = less cell growth
    AND: unlike insulin which reacts instantly to glucose, IGF levels change slowly, and measuring levels reflect long-term dietary patterns.
    Simplifying the science:
    Higher numbers of IGF receptors the stronger the IGF signal to the cell
    Raise insulin = greater stimulation of IGF receptors = greater IGF and insulin cell growth triggers
    Renato Bersega, of Thomas Jefferson University, “stumbled upon” the discovery after 40 years of research that, in mice, IGF receptors are a “virtual necessity for cancer growth” (late 1980s). He found that shutting down mice IGF receptors STOPPED cancer growth)

  5. My husband suffered for many years with GERD, took prescription antacids. After he was on antacids for so many years, insurance required that he have an upper GI endoscopy. Turns out he had damage to his esophagus, and a “pre-cancerous” condition known as Barrett’s Syndrome (basically, abnormal, damaged cells due to the constant acid). He had surgery to correct the hernia that was allowing the acid into his esophagus and his condition has not advanced.

    Weight has been an issue with him, and I have no evidence, but I think it had an effect on causing the hernia. Before we started low-carbing, he used to drink pretty much only Pepsi (all that yummy high fructose corn syrup), and ate the standard American high-carb diet (we both did).

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the high carb diet and the weight that comes with it is a factor in esophageal cancer. Hopefully the surgery and our new lower carb way of eating will continue to keep progression of his condition at bay.

  6. I post a reading list of 1,163 articles for my upcoming book, Carbohydrates Can Kill, on the website, After you read some of the articles in the categories, you should understand that out nutritional recommendation has been so wrong and dangerous!. In stead of asking us to limit the amount of fat sand proteins, we must limit the amount of carbohydrates.

    Robert Su, M.D.

  7. I am a Barrett’s syndrome sufferer due to the constant GERD. My Dr. put me on Prilosec.

    I have been primal for about 2 months now and stopped my prilosec for a couple of days when the heartburn returned.

    I was wondering, will I ever be able to stop the prilosec without getting the Barrett’s hernia corrected even on primal?

    I have been to 2 dr.s and they both say “stay on the prilosec, no need for surgery”.

    1. Hi, I was wondering if this was every resolved? Were you able to get off of the prilosec? I was a GERD sufferer and was on Prilosec or similar drugs on and off. I then started having major intestinal problems and found out I had very low vitamin and nutrient levels. I first started going gluten free and felt better, but then wound up in the hospital with severe gastritis. After getting out, I did some research and found the SCD diet and a lot of information on low stomach acid (sounds ironic, doesn’t it?) Since I was unable to eat normally anyway, I started the SCD diet, which is similar to GAPS and is a healing diet. I did do a follow up with a gastro and had an endoscopy and they found that I still had an inflamed stomach (I was still having pain in the upper left abdomen). The Dr prescribed more Prilosec. I decided not to do it.

      After a few weeks of ‘healing’ I went to a modified Paleo diet no grains at all and I also eliminated FODMAPS and Nightshades, which helped with my IBS. I also added HCL to help with food digestion. Most GERD is caused by too little stomach acid, not too much. You can’t digest the food properly, it ferments in your stomach and the gas from that causes the reflux.

      You will obviously have to be careful because you have Barretts, but with a complete change of diet and supplementing with HCL, I have eliminated my GERD and also IBS. It’s worth a shot.