fast food burger in hand with bites taken from it
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
June 1, 2024 ·  4 min read

Does Junk Food Cause Cancer? Morgan Spurlock, Maker of Super Size Me, Dies From Disease at Age 53

Junk food has long been associated with various health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But does it also cause cancer? The recent death of Morgan Spurlock, the maker of “Super Size Me,” from an undisclosed type of cancer at the age of 53 has raised concerns about the potential link between junk food and cancer. So, does fast food cause cancer? In this article, we will explore this question and examine scientific evidence surrounding the topic.

Super Size Me Creator Morgan Spurlock Dies of Cancer

The tragic death of Morgan Spurlock, famed for his documentary “Super Size Me,” has brought attention to the potential dangers of consuming excessive amounts of junk food. In his 2004 documentary, he ate only Mcdonald’s for one month straight. As can be imagined, he suffered a number of health problems in the immediate aftermath of his experiment. Spurlock’s film exposed the harmful effects of a fast-food diet on his own health, however, it is important to note that his cancer has not been attributed to his Super Size Me experiment of 20 years ago. His family has not divulged what kind of cancer Spurlock had, only that he passed from complications from it. His death, however, has caused many people to ask the question: Can fast food lead to cancer down the line? (1)

Read More: 25 So-Called ‘Junk Foods’ That Are Actually Good For You

Does Junk Food Cause Cancer?

Man holding a fresh made hamburger
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The question of whether junk food causes cancer is a complex one. While it is clear that a diet high in junk food is detrimental to overall health, the direct link to cancer is not fully established. We do know that generally a diet high in fast food and junk food is linked to several other diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. These diseases all elevate your cancer risk. Still, however, scientists don’t fully understand the fast food-cancer connection. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between diet and cancer, and while some suggest a potential association, definitive evidence is yet to be found. It is crucial to distinguish between correlation and causation when examining these studies. (2)

The Singapore Study

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A recent study conducted in Singapore has shed light on a potential link between junk food consumption and the increased risk of cancer. The study focused on the impact of methylglyoxal, a compound released when the body breaks down sugary and fatty foods, on a gene known as BRCA2, which plays a role in protecting against cancer. Researchers found that methylglyoxal could temporarily inhibit the function of BRCA2, thereby reducing its ability to prevent tumor formation and growth. The study’s findings contradict the traditional “two-hit” paradigm, suggesting that even temporary impairment of genes like BRCA2 may contribute to an elevated cancer risk. The research emphasizes the importance of diet, particularly the consumption of processed foods and red meat, in influencing individuals’ cancer susceptibility, especially among young and ostensibly healthy populations. (3)

Furthermore, the study also highlighted the potential impact of methylglyoxal on individuals who have inherited faulty copies of genes like BRCA2, predisposing them to a higher risk of certain cancers. The researchers observed that cells from these individuals were particularly sensitive to the effects of methylglyoxal, which could lead to DNA faults that serve as early warning signs of cancer development. Notably, the study underlined the prevalence of high levels of methylglyoxal in individuals with diabetes and prediabetes, suggesting a potential connection between poor dietary habits, uncontrolled diabetes, and an increased risk of cancer over time. While the study was conducted on cells rather than humans, it contributes to the growing body of evidence supporting the idea that diet and lifestyle factors may significantly influence cancer risk, particularly colorectal cancer. Additional research is warranted to explore further and validate the impact of diet, genetic predisposition, and environmental factors on cancer development and prevention.

What we know about the connection between junk food and health

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While the direct link between junk food and cancer remains inconclusive, there is overwhelming evidence that a diet rich in processed foods, trans fats, and high sugar content is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. These chronic conditions are themselves risk factors for certain types of cancers. Consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is widely recommended for promoting overall health and reducing the risk of cancer.

Read More: 9 Foods You May Have To Stop Eating As You Get Older

Cancer prevention through lifestyle

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Although the link between junk food and cancer is yet to be definitively established, adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial for cancer prevention. Along with maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and managing stress levels are all pivotal in reducing the risk of developing various types of cancer. By focusing on overall lifestyle choices, individuals can take proactive steps towards promoting their well-being.

The Bottom Line

Fast food concept with greasy fried restaurant take out as onion rings burger and hot dogs with fried chicken french fries and pizza as a symbol of diet temptation resulting in unhealthy nutrition.
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While the death of Morgan Spurlock raises concerns about the potential dangers of junk food, the direct association between junk food consumption and cancer remains uncertain. It is essential to consider the larger body of scientific evidence, which indicates the detrimental effects of a junk food diet on overall health. Although avoiding junk food is a sensible choice, individuals should also prioritize a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Read More: 21 Incredibly Healthy and Affordable Foods

Sources

  1. Morgan Spurlock obituary.” The Guardian. Phil Hoad. May 27, 2024.
  2. Ultra-processed food consumption and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Pubmed. Irja Minde Isaksen and Simon Nitter Dankel. June 2023.
  3. Scientists uncover a missing link between poor diet and higher cancer risk.” Science Daily. National University of Singapore. April 12, 2024