What doesn’t cause cancer?

Our nation is currently in the middle of a political storm surrounding the UK’s potential exit from the European Union and one of the major criticisms about the campaigns is that simply throwing out statistics, studies and reports just overwhelms the general public and we are all left not knowing who to believe. This is nothing new to us in the health and fitness industry however. We are constantly dealing with reports that massively contradict each other that leave us with no more knowledge once we have compared the two. 

So what are we to do? I ask that question in relation to the health and fitness problem of course, not the EU. Just think about everything that you have ever read that has told you that you are increasing your chances of getting cancer, heart disease or some other life threatening disease. Now think about how many of those have been to do with what you choose to put into your body and how much exercise that you do. Just pick one and do a quick Google search. I’m going to guess that you will find articles that cite scientific research that supports both sides of the argument.

This is a real problem for people who train and people who are giving advice to others. The one thing this blog never wants to do is misinform its readers and publish nonsense reports. But if one minute you hear that you have to switch to Diet Coke if you don’t want to increase your chances of getting prostate cancer and the next that the sweeteners in that Diet Coke are carcinogenic, then what can you do? Well, in that case you could just drink water of course, but you get the point.

This idea that everything causes cancer is genuinely serious though. Eventually people just become numb to these reports. If you only heard one report a year that suggested a particular food item contributed to the likelihood of you getting cancer then you would probably take it very seriously. The fact that we can here several every single day diminishes the individual value of each report. And that means that lost in the piles of misinformation and distorted figures could be a complex study that truly redefines the way we need to think about our exercise and nutrition.

So what we need is a way to split the valuable from the nonsense. The latter pile will unquestionably be the greater. Luckily for us it isn’t all doom and gloom and there are some things that we actually can do in order to validate what we are reading.

Always find out who/what was being tested on. If you hear that the chances of you developing cancer is increased because of what happened to rodents following testing, then that study is less likely to warrant the same praise as one that has conducted similar tests on humans. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that I chose to pluralise human there. Why? Because a study of 10 humans is very different to a study on 100, and a study of 100 humans is very different to a study on 100,000.

Some of these reports refer to things that have been picked up in a lab that might not have even been the purpose of the experiment in the first place. By that I mean that if a group of scientists are specifically testing for the carcinogenic properties of aspartame, those results are far more relevant than those that come from a study on which sweeteners British men, women and children prefer to consume. And look at which organisation/body are putting out the information. Be skeptical about what you read and test that organisations track record on similar findings.

The internet has brought information to our fingertips and I am grateful everyday for that. But we have to accept it has brought misinformation along with it. Our responsibilities lie with sifting through all information and validating what we read. Only then should we look to adopt exercise and nutritional plans that consider the results of these studies.

Ollie Lawrence