How to get lung cancer from a frypan

By February 1, 2016Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils are highly unstable. When they interact with oxygen, they release neurotoxic, DNA mutating chemicals which are known to cause cancer (at least). Recent improvements in measurement technology have now thrown a spotlight on the quantity of these chemicals released by normal use. And the results are truly terrifying.

Vegetable oil made from seeds (Canola, Sunflower, Corn, Safflower, Grapeseed, Rice Bran and Soybean for example) -seed oils – are a relatively new addition to the human diet.  Unlike oils made from fruit (Olive, Avocado and Coconut) and animal fats, they are very high in something called an Omega-6 fat.

They are also incredibly cheap to make, which is why you will find them in just about every food on the supermarket shelf and in every deep fryer in the land.

These Omega-6 fats are known to cause oxidative stress in humans.  Oxidative stress occurs when the reactions between these fats and oxygen overwhelm our anti-oxidant defences and a chain reaction gets under way.

That chain reaction results in the production of some highly toxic chemicals which include MDA (Malondialdehyde) and 4-HNE (4-hydroxy-2-nonenal).  They are dangerous because they interact destructively with our DNA and cause cancer.

But that is, by no means the least of it. Because of their neurotoxic capabilities, they are likely to be heavily involved in Alzheimer’s disease, MND, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.  They are also implicated in chronic inflammation, stroke and heart disease.

While the MDA and 4-HNE we make ourselves (from consuming too much Omega-6) is devastating enough, it is now becoming abundantly clear that we can make them even more dangerous than they already are.  All we need to do is heat them before we eat them.

A study released late last year found that when oils containing Omega-6 fats are heated at a normal cooking temperature (of 180⁰C), they create significant quantities of MDA and 4-HNE (amongst other highly toxic chemicals).  And each time the oil was re-used the concentration increased massively.  The study showed that by the fifth day of oil re-use it had 5 times the concentration of these chemicals that it had on the first (which was already alarmingly high).

These premade cancer bombs are directly ingested every time we eat a food which was cooked in those oils (for example, anything fried in seed oils) or which used heated seed oils in the recipe (for example baked goods).   They are even lurking in products which are sold cold but were made using heated seed oils (like margarines).

But worse than that, the researchers also made the point that all they could measure was the amount of these chemicals left in the oil. Since they are highly volatile, they are constantly escaping into the air around us when the food is being cooked and even when it is being eaten.  It is likely that this explains the stubbornly high rates of lung cancer among women in Asian countries (where smoking is rare among women, but wok frying with Canola oil is a daily task).

According to a 2014 report from the WHO (World Health Organisation), more than forty three thousand Australians died from cancer in 2012. And despite huge advances in treatment, it is now the single biggest cause of death in Australia.

The report reveals that in the nine years the report covers, cancer diagnosis in Australia increased by an alarming 14 per cent. In 2003, 274 Australians per day were diagnosed. In 2012, it was 312 people. Per Day! Worse than that, the authors of the report expect that number to almost double in the next twenty years.

In countries exposed to the Western Diet for most of the last five decades (such as Australia), the number of new cases of Multiple Sclerosis recorded per year (after adjusting for population increases) has quadrupled and the numbers of people with the other diseases associated with these lethal chemicals has also been pushing steadily higher.

Prevention is clearly the key to changing a future full of untimely death from horrible chronic disease. Unfortunately those charged with advising us are blind to the real cause of these lethal epidemics.

Worse that that they are frequently the people responsible for us consuming the oils in the first place. McDonald’s for example switched from frying in Beef Fat to Canola oil in 2004 after incessant pressure from the Heart Foundation. And KFC followed suit in 2012

Every day there are thousands of teenagers standing over vats of frying canola oil for 8 hour shifts at every fast food restaurant in this country.  Every day, there are people cooking with high temperature seed oils in woks (seasoned with seed oil). And every day there are industrial quantities of heated seed oil being poured into commercial baked and frozen foods.

And that is set against background of terrifying increases in cancer incidence in this country.  Today’s 312 new cancer sufferers are not theoretical.  They are your neighbour, your sister, the kid next door.

That this is allowed to continue when the science is so clear, is not merely a shame or an embarrassment.  It is an outrage and a tragedy.

You can’t stop the food processors putting these carcinogens in your food and you can’t stop the Heart Foundation and the Cancer Council encouraging them to do so, but you sure can stop that food being put in you.  Isn’t it time you did?


Photo courtesy of 2006 advertisement of the British Heart Foundation

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Alex G. says:

    Hi David,

    I’ve recently been introduced to your work by a friend and work colleague. A few points in this post caught my eye; could you elaborate a little in case I’ve misunderstood?:

    “…despite huge advances in treatment, it is now the single biggest cause of death in Australia.”

    Is there a rationale behind grouping every type of cancer into one big pot and labelling it ‘cancer’? The survival rates for cancers vary fantastically, and the improvement in our ability to treat them has turned some from death sentences 20 years ago to greatly improved survival rates today.

    Furthermore, the mere fact that it’s the leading cause of death doesn’t tell us anything special about cancer itself. If cardiovascular disease is in a close second place (it typical is in the West), any improvement in cancer treatment that knocks it off the top spot will now mean that CVD is ‘the single biggest cause of death in Australia’. This would also be true if the incidence rates for all causes of death (medical and otherwise) were fantastically small, but cancer and CVD were leading the pack by a small margin. It sounds scary in print, but doesn’t tell us any more than we already knew.

    “The report reveals that in the nine years the report covers, cancer diagnosis in Australia increased by an alarming 14 per cent. In 2003, 274 Australians per day were diagnosed. In 2012, it was 312 people. Per Day! Worse than that, the authors of the report expect that number to almost double in the next twenty years.”

    An increase of 14% (312/274 = 13.9% increase) certainty does look severe. However, the natural question to ask is, relative to what? The claim appears to be that the *rate* of cancer diagnosis has increased over that 9 year period, but that doesn’t seem to be the case if we adjust for population growth.

    Australian domestic population on June 30, 2003: 19,880,600 (source: ABS)
    Australian domestic population on June 30, 2012: 22,683,600 (source: ABS)

    Over that same 9-year period Australia’s population increased by 14.1%.

    So we have a difference of 0.2% *below* baseline over 9 years (a decrease of 0.6 diagnoses per day by the 9th year). That looks to be well within the error bars for census numbers and variability of cancer diagnoses, and consistent with the hypothesis that cancer diagnosis rates have been constant from 2003 to 2012.

    I freely admit that statistics isn’t my strong suit, so if I’ve made a mistake here I’ll be the first to admit it.

  • Helen Margiolis says:

    It’s time to take a stance and take action and stop
    Purchasing these items.

  • David Gillespie says:

    Alex – re incidence – put in a more standard way (according to the AIHW): “The age-standardised incidence rate of all cancers combined increased by 12% from 433 per 100,000 in 1991 to 486 per 100,000 in 2009.” Those numbers are age adjusted and (obviously) population neutral (being per 100,000).

  • David Gillespie says:

    Alex – re grouping – I don’t understand the point you are making – please elaborate.

  • Alex G. says:

    Thanks David.

    An interesting read. The authors highlight that this increased rate of cancer is primarily being driven by prostate, breast (in women), bowel, and lung cancer. As you point out, they say this increase of 12% can “can only be partly explained by the ageing and increasing size of the population. ” They do go on to explain what they believe those other factors to be. Let’s look at each of them in turn.

    Prostate cancer: “The peaks in prostate cancers are thought to be due to changes in how prostate cancers are detected, rather than an elevated risk.” (page 18)

    Breast cancer: “The pronounced increase in the incidence of breast cancer between 1991 and 1995 is most likely due to the introduction of the national breast cancer screening program” (page 18). From another of their publications: “The rate has remained fairly stable since 1995.”

    Bowel Cancer: The rates for men peaked then decreased to pre-1991 levels. Rate for women was flat and expected to stay that way through the end of 2010-2012 period. (page 19)

    Lung Cancer: Rates for lung cancer in men are consistently falling on a 20-year time lag with the decrease in smoking habits among the population. For women it’s still climbing, and the authors pin it down to smoking in women peaking later than in men, so we’re still waiting for the ‘quitters decline’ to show up (this is speculative, but not without merit). The men in this category are making up a larger part of the pie as smoking rates among males in 2012 was 20.4% in over-18s compared with 16.3% in females. So decrease in men’s cancer rates would have an extra 25% oomph in dropping the total male+female rate; grouping male and female together shows an overall decrease in lung cancer rates from 99 per 100,000 to 89 per 100,000 from 1991 to 2009 (page 20; 75+24 = 99, 56+33= 89).

    Of the top four cancers driving the 12% increase, two are due to better screening procedures/programs, the rate of the third has been flat for 20 years, and the fourth is decreasing in males but increasing in females, for a net overall decrease.

    Lest anyone here think I’m being unnecessarily contrarian, let me say that I want a healthier food supply for all Australians (all humans really) as much as the next guy. I also want to be sure we’re making the right argument for it.

    Thanks for your time.

  • David Gillespie says:

    Alex the authors could rightly feel they’ve been verballed by you there. They said “Between 1991 and 2009, the number of new cancer cases diagnosed almost doubled—from
    66,393 in 1991 to 114,137 in 2009. This increasing trend is primarily due to the rise in the
    number of prostate cancer, breast cancer in females, bowel cancer and lung cancer.” – They were talking about the growth in raw numbers and so (unsurprisingly) identified the largest 4 cancers (by numbers of people affected) as the source of that growth.

    They did not say (as you did) “that this increased rate of cancer is primarily being driven by prostate, breast (in women), bowel, and lung cancer. ”

    So let’s look at cancer where there have been significant increases in the rate (or incidence). These numbers are all for the period (1982-2011) and are age and population adjusted:

    Female Thyroid +254%
    Female Liver +244%
    Male Liver +210%
    Male Thyroid +200%
    Male Anal +117%
    Prostate +110%
    Male Melanoma +109%
    Female Kidney +108%
    Female Lung +73%
    Male Kidney +70%
    Female Anal +70%
    Testicular +60%
    Male Non Hodgkins +58%
    Female Melanoma +49%
    Female Breast +43%
    Female Non Hodgkins +38%
    Female Pancreatic +31%
    Male Myeloma +31%
    Female Myeloma +26%
    Female Uterine +25%
    …. and then we get to the average – All Cancers Male and Female +23% (note updated period from stats used above)

    With all those cancers so far above the average there must be some big ones dragging it down and they are as you might expect Male lung Cancer (-34%), Stomach cancer (-47% for females and -48% for males) and Cervical (-51%)

    My point is that if anything my use of the consolidated figure from the WHO significantly understates the size and the scale of the problem. There are large numbers of cancers with rates of increase that make 14% (or 12% from the AIHW) look like a great number.

    The data is from here:

  • Kim Garet says:

    I’m not a medical person – but is lung cancer usually a secondary cancer? Doesn’t cancer thrive on oxygen, therefore travel to the lungs as soon as it can to really sink its teeth in?

    Kim G

  • Jason says:

    Hi David,
    Are you a trained scientist (chemist) or oncologist? By the amount of hyperbole in your post, I’d suggest you aren’t.

    For example, your comments about women in Asian wok cooking with canola oil, and increased incidence of lung cancer is at best correlation, at worst is fantasy. You do realise that many Asian countries have exceedingly high levels of air pollution and many poorer families use fossil fuel stoves indoors for cooking, which adds another dimension to the problem of air pollution. The WHO has identified air pollution–especially particulates–as a massive public health problem.

    I’m not trying to defend the use of canola oils with omega-6 fats. I’ve changed to olive oil for some of the reasons you have overblown. Please be more measured–that is, more accurate–in the future.

  • David Gillespie says:

    Jason the study on wok frying I link to in the article is neither correlation nor fantasy. They did spot urine checks looking explicitly for the compounds produced by heated seed oil.

  • David, great article as usual and I admire both your serenity and forcefulness in dealing with obvious beneficiaries from the medical industry who do not miss any opportunities to obfuscate the facts.

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