A new study suggests that Seventh-Day Adventists have a lower cancer risk and a longer life expectancy than the general population. Researchers found that early death rates among the Protestant denomination — long known for its rigorous health promotion — were 33 percent lower than the rest of United States population and cancer incidence rates were 30 percent lower.
Published online on a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, CANCER, the study also found similar results when limiting the analysis to Black Adventists and the Black general population.
Results vary by cancer type, however, with little published data for Black individuals.
To provide additional insights, Dr Gary Fraser, director of the Adventist Health Study, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Loma Linda University, California, and his colleagues compared death rates and cancer incidence between a national Seventh-day Adventist population and a representative sample of the U.S. population.
Specifically, the researchers analysed data from the nationally inclusive Adventist Health Study-2 and a U.S. Census population, and they adjusted for differences in education, location of residence, and past smoking habits so that these factors would not explain any of the results.
The team found significantly lower rates of death from any cause, as well as a lower incidence of all cancers combined in the Adventist population (by 33 percent and 30 percent, respectively), and lower incidence rates specifically for breast, colorectal, rectal, and lung cancer (by 30 percent, 16 percent, 50 percent, and 30 percent, respectively). Death rates and incidence of all cancers combined were also significantly lower among Black Adventist individuals compared with Black individuals in the U.S. Census population (by 36 percent and 22 percent, respectively).
“This is the first confirmation of previous reports, now using national populations. Further, we were able to control for differences in tobacco use by excluding any currently smoking non-Adventists, and adjusting for past smoking and time since quitting in previous smokers,” said Dr. Fraser.
“In addition, this is the first report that includes a comparison among Black individuals alone.”
Dr Fraser noted that the findings didn’t identify the causes of the health benefits experienced by Adventists, but other studies have provided evidence that the plant-based dietary habits chosen by many Adventists are one important factor.
“Adventist vegetarians have less overweight, diabetes, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol, coronary heart disease, and several cancers compared with Adventist non-vegetarians, who themselves are lower than usual consumers of animal foods,” he said.
“Thus, the findings in this report comparing all Adventists—vegetarians and non-vegetarians—to average Americans are largely as expected and strongly suggest that these health advantages may be available to all Americans who choose similar diets, in addition of course to other well-known prudent lifestyle choices such as regular physical activity, avoiding smoking, and care with body weight.”
Previous researches have also suggested that Seventh-day Adventists have lower risks of many cancers, heart disease, and diabetes, and live longer than individuals in the general population.
The first study, conducted from 1976 to 1988, examined 34,000 Adventists in California, establishing firm connections between lifestyle, disease and longevity.
Historically, SDA has emphasised physical health as an important component of spiritual health. Health behaviours promoted by the religious group include not smoking, eating a plant-based diet, regular exercise, and maintaining normal body weight. Residents don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine – sticking only to water – and exercise regularly.
The church understands that consuming meat appears in many cases to increase the risk of commonly occurring cancers. On the other hand, eating fruits, tomatoes, and legumes (including soy) appears to be protective.
Even in fewer common cancers that are better known for being related to smoking and alcohol, diet may play a significant role in reducing risk.
Although, it can be difficult to prove a link between particular foods and some cancers, one case where the connection appears to be very real is meat and colon cancer. Dr Fraser said that non-vegetarian Adventists have about an 85 percent higher risk of developing this disease than their vegetarian counterparts.
Their past research suggested that eating legumes may protect against colon cancer. It’s also possible that consuming legumes may somewhat counteract the negative effects of eating meat when it comes to colon cancer, they said.
Another possible connection the researchers found is between soymilk consumption and prostate cancer, which showed that men who drank soymilk daily had about a 30 percent lower risk than men who never drank it.
Additionally, other studies have suggested that eating tomatoes, legumes and dried fruit may be protective.
Pancreatic cancer, known for being especially devastating, does not appear to be affected by whether a person is vegetarian or not. However, eating legumes, dried fruit and possibly even vegetarian meat substitutes may offer some protection, although this is another question they need to explore further.
Beyond cancer, the researchers discovered interesting connections in the realm of cardiovascular conditions and diabetes. When it comes to heart attacks, blood lipids, diabetes and high blood pressure, vegetarians have a clear advantage and vegans fare even better.
It isn’t exactly news to say that diet can contribute to or prevent heart-related conditions, but it might be surprising just how much of a difference it makes.
In the end, death is inevitable and Seventh-day Adventists die of the same causes as everyone else, but they die later. Some might think the extra years are feeble ones. They ask, “Why would you want to live longer?” But we have also measured the quality of life related to physical and mental health. At virtually every age, the bottom line is that Adventists score better.
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