Study Links Eating Whole Grains with Lower Risk of Liver Cancer

A large new study has found that regularly eating whole grains may significantly lower the risk of liver cancer. The study, published online in JAMA Oncology, followed 125,000 men and women for an average of 24 years, gathering information on participants’ diet at regular intervals over that time.

The researchers found that those who ate the greatest amount of whole grains had a 37 percent lower risk of a common type of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) compared to those who ate the least. And benefits accrued with a relatively modest intake of whole grains, only around 33 grams a day. That’s just over the amount in two slices of 100 percent whole-wheat bread, which has about 16 grams of whole grains per slice.

Despite being a large, well-designed study, the researchers were appropriately cautious in their conclusions and highlighted their study’s limitations. There were relatively few cases of liver cancer among the participants, which makes it harder to rule out chance findings. Hepatitis infection, which is an important risk factor for liver cancer, was not well documented in participants, and so could not be fully taken into account in analyses, possibly impacting the accuracy of results.  And finally, the link between whole grains and liver cancer has only been looked at in a very small number of studies, so there is not yet enough evidence to draw solid conclusions about the links between the two.

Taking all that into account, the paper ends:

If our findings are confirmed, increasing whole grain consumption may serve as a possible strategy for prevention of primary HCC [liver cancer]. 

And if confirmed, these results would also further build on the already great evidence on the overall health benefits of a diet rich in whole grains, which we’ve written about previously in CNiC. From Be Less Refined: Eat More Whole Grains:

Whole grains are packed with fiber and other key nutrients and have been found to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. They can also help keep weight in check and the digestive system running like clockwork.

For overall health benefits, the goal should be to eat three or more servings of whole-grains a day. One serving of whole grains is:
  • 1 slice of 100 percent whole-wheat bread
  • 1 cup of dry whole-grain cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice, wild rice, or hot whole-grain cereal, like oatmeal

While whole grains taste great, they can also take a bit of getting used to if you’re used to eating mostly refined-grain foods, like white bread and white rice. So, take a little time to transition. Add one slice of 100 percent whole-wheat bread to your sandwich to start. Or mix equal parts, brown rice and white rice, or regular pasta with whole-grain pasta. Then, slowly make whole grains a bigger part of the total grains in your diet.

The benefits are well worth the effort.

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