People who are prone to ulcers who eat a high-salt diet are at markedly higher risk of developing stomach cancer, new research shows.
Vanderbilt University scientists have found high dietary salt when combined with infection by the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori greatly increases the risk of gastric cancer. The study, published in the journal Infection and Immunity, was based on experiments involving gerbils.
Lead researcher Timothy L. Cover noted past studies have linked high-salt diets to cancer.
“This was one of the driving forces that led us to undertake the current studies,” he said. But the new research shows the risks increase dramatically when a high-salt diet is combined with H. pylori, boosting stomach inflammation and giving rise to tumor growth.
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For the study, Cover and colleagues infected Mongolian gerbils with H. pylori. They then fed one group of gerbils a regular diet, and the second a high-salt diet. At the end of the experiment, the researchers analyzed the animals' stomach tissues and found every animal on the high-salt diet developed cancer, compared with just 58 percent of those on the regular diet.
The researchers also found significantly higher levels of gastric inflammation in H. pylori-infected gerbils on a high-salt diet than in those on a regular diet, a finding which Cover said is relevant to many types of cancer.
The researchers noted that while no prior studies have examined the cancer risks tied to a high-salt diet and H. pylori infection, “in several parts of the world that have high rates of gastric cancer, there is a high prevalence of [the bacterial infection] and a large proportion of the population consumes a high-salt diet."
At least 50 percent of humans are infected with H. pylori; most have no symptoms.
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