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  • Study Singles out Kimchi as Gastric Cancer Risk

    New Study Singles out Kimchi as Risk for Gastric Cancer

    June 06, 2006

    By: Jean Johnson for Reflux1

    The Good Stuff – Always Bad for Us?

    “Why is it that they always say the good stuff is bad for us?” said April Everhart of Upland, Calif., an emergency room nurse. “I suspect what it is, is that we like certain foods so much that we go overboard and then there are problems.”

    Take Action
    Decrease your risk of gastric cancer

    You can decrease your risk factors for gastric cancer by making changes in your diet and lifestyle.

  • Avoid using excessive salt

  • Eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables

  • Studies have suggested eating foods with beta-carotene and vitamin C decreases your risk for gastric cancer

    For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s page on gastric cancer.

  • Everhart is right on the money according to researchers involved in a 2005 study assessing popular fermented foods, like kimchi and soybean pastes, and their relationship to gastric cancer.

    New Korean Study Says Excess is the Culprit

    “We found that if you were a very, very heavy eater of kimchi, you had a 50 percent higher risk of getting stomach cancer,” one of the study authors, Kim Heon of the department of preventive medicine at Chungbuk National University in South Korea, told the Los Angeles Times. “It is not that kimchi is not a healthy food – it is a healthy food, but in excessive quantities there are risk factors.”

    Fermented vs. Non-fermented Foods

    According to the scientific paper Kim Heon’s team published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005, “Stomach cancer is the most common cancer in Korea and the second leading site of cancer occurrence worldwide.” Further, the paper states that “consumption of kimchi and soybean pastes was associated with increased risk of gastric cancer.” They also stated that, “A decreased risk of gastric cancer was noted among people with high consumption of non-fermented alliums and non-fermented seafood.”

    Kimchi and Culture

    Taking on kimchi is like taking on Korean culture, say critics of the study, since kimchi is about as beloved to Koreans as hamburgers are to Americans. That makes April Everhart find the news all the more disturbing.

    “I mean really, when you think about it, what is kimchi? Cabbage and chili and garlic and salt and whatever. All those great veggies done up sort of like sauerkraut, although I guess in some brine and not the vinegar.

    “I remember when I first tried it back in high school in the late 1970s. A friend’s mom used to make it. She wasn’t Asian, just an adventurous cook. We loved her and her kimchi so much. I always thought it was so cool that she did that – made things different from pot roast and potatoes. She’s gone now, but when I get the chance, I always eat some kimchi and remember her.”

    In Perspective
    Quotable notes from the Korean kimchi front, from the LA Times

    “Koreans can’t go anywhere without kimchi,” said Byun Myung-woo, scientific lead on the team that developed kimchi specifically for space travel.

    “I think kimchi practically defines Korean-ness,” said Park Chae Lin, museum curator.

    “I’m sorry. I can’t talk about the health risks of kimchi in the media. Kimchi is our national food,” said a Seoul National University research speaking anonymously.”

    Everhart also makes connections between kimchi and other foods that can be hard on the gastrointestinal tract.

    “You know really what this flap reminds me of is Mexican chilies or even these other things called pickles from India. Both are condiments sort of like kimchi, and both seem to have doctors getting on their high horses when patients have stomach problems.

    “As a nurse, I understand that our innards can only take so much and moderation is the key. But I still remember with a much respect this one older Spanish gentleman who the docs said would die unless he stopped eating his beloved chilies. The man didn’t care much about modern medicine and its pronouncements. He said he’d just go on back home and do what he always did and let nature take its course. In effect, he chose death.”

    Benefits of Kimchi

    Koreans and lovers of kimchi will hopefully not be faced with such severe realities since authors of the study were careful to say that it is an excess of kimchi and soybean pastes that causes problems, not simply moderate intake. In addition, other studies devoted to this national food have brought the net up quite full of compliments.

    The Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute, which is preparing to send a Korean into space in a Russian vehicle in 2008, just announced a special type of kimchi that would go with the astronaut and help promote digestion. Another study of hairless mice concluded that kimchi decreased wrinkles common to the aging process.

    Update on Gastric Cancer Globally

    However one comes down in the kimchi et al debate, some basics on stomach cancer statistics help put things in perspective. According to the National Cancer Institute, almost 800,000 cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed worldwide annually. More, Japan, South America, Eastern Europe, and parts of the Middle East have the highest incidence.

    Still, Fabio Levi, professor based at the Institute Universitaire de medicine social et preventive in Lausanne, Switzerland, who has looked at rates in Europe told the BBC that, “We are seeing a steady and persistent fall in rates across various major geographical areas of the continent, and there is little systematic indication of it leveling off over the most recent years, indicating that the decrease is likely to continue in the near future.”

    While scientists are not sure why rates of stomach cancer have fallen in Europe, they speculate that “a more varied diet and affluent diet and better food conservation, including refrigeration” have helped as Carlo La Vacchaia, professor from the Instituto Mario Negri in Milan, Italy added to the BBC report.

    Also London’s own Tim Key, M.D. and epidemiologist with the Cancer Research UK, said that “the causes of stomach caner are complex, but people can help to reduce their risk by not smoking and by eating fresh fruits and vegetables.”

    Parting Thoughts

    “Dr. Key’s comment is my point precisely when it comes to kimchi,” said Everhart. “This is a vegetable we’re talking about here. Not some cow or chicken product that is getting all the renewed attention lately on the grisly things the meat packing industry does to our food.

    “Yes, I realize that the cabbage in kimchi and the soybeans in the paste are fermented and therein seems to lie the problem along with the salt. But give me a break. It’s just a little old vegetable. And we have to eat something. I’d much rather have my daughter dosing on kimchi than I would on all the garbage her TV shows try and sell her.”

    Moderation, once again seems to be the way through the eye of the needle.

    Last updated: 06-Jun-06


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