Loma Linda University Health’s Adventist Health Studies began in 1958. The studies are among the most comprehensive investigations of lifestyle, diet and disease ever conducted. For over 60 years, our research has brought to light how our choices affect the development of certain cancers. Decades worth of impactful research has been made possible by grant support from the National Cancer Institute, producing countless published studies.
Our Population Sciences Research Program continues to broaden our understanding of cancer risk associated with:
- Food and nutrients
- Lifestyle factors
- Metabolic risk indicators
- Environmental factors
The Population Sciences Research Program has three distinct goals:
- Undertake research initiatives that expand the breadth and depth of medical science’s understanding of cancer.
- Produce findings that serve as the basis from which translational work will emanate, increasing survivorship in our community and worldwide.
- Identify lifestyle choices that not only extend the life but also enhance the wholeness of our aging population.
Adventist Health Studies
The Adventist Health Studies are five long-term research efforts that explore links between diet, pollutants, lifestyle and cancer. More than 100,000 individuals continue to provide invaluable data we leverage to better understand and fight cancer. The studies include:
- 1958-1966: Adventist Mortality Study - 23,000 participants
- 1974-1988: Adventist Health Study-1 - 34,192 participants
- 1976-Present: Adventist Health Air Pollution Study - 6,328 participants
- 2002-Present: Adventist Health Study-2 - 96,000 participants
- 2006-Present: Adventist Religion and Health Study - 11,000 participants
Adventist Health Study-2
Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2) began in 2002 and continues to gather diet and health data from over 96,000 participants. All participants are Seventh-day Adventists, providing a unique opportunity to study a population whose lifestyle behaviors are highly similar. Because of this similarity, there’s less likelihood of confounding variables and more likelihood of accurate, actionable data.
Three features of this study set it apart from others:
- As mentioned, the study includes only Seventh-day Adventist participants. This population has a wide variety of dietary habits but a very low incidence of alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking.
- Other studies may have used the broad category “vegetarian,” while AHS-2 divides participants into vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian and pesco-vegetarian subtypes.
- Researchers validated incident cancers with registries in 38 US states plus Washington, D.C., producing results that may indicate nationwide trends. Other studies often match cancer cases in only one or a few states.
AHS-2 Cancer Findings
AHS-2 has produced findings related to a number of cancers.
Vegan Diet and Reduced Cancer Risk
The study’s results indicate a convincing — if mild — decrease for overall cancer risk for vegans. Vegan women also gain some protection against female-specific cancers, including breast, uterine, ovarian and other genital cancers.
Lacto-ovo Vegetarian Diet and Reduced Cancer Risk
Vegetarians who also consume dairy and eggs gain protection from gastrointestinal cancers, including colon, stomach and pancreas cancers.
Pesco-vegetarian Diet and Reduced Cancer Risk
Vegetarians who also consume fish seem to gain protection from respiratory and urinary cancers.
Diet and Colon Polyps
Colon cancer represents the third most common cancer and second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Our results indicate we may be able to put a dent in those numbers via simple dietary changes.
Increased consumption of cooked green vegetables, brown rice, legumes and dried fruit was linked to decreased risk of colon polyps. Most previous research into colon cancer has focused on broad food groups like fruits and vegetables. AHS-2, however, focused on narrower food groups and certain foods in relation to colon polyps specifically. Colon polyps are a precursor to colon cancer and by reducing their likelihood we may reduce colon cancer prevalence.
Adventist Health Air Pollution Study
While cancer risk can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices, some risk factors are more difficult to avoid. The Adventist Health Air Pollution Study conducts research into links between various indoor and outdoor pollutants and lung cancer. Funded by the EPA, this sub-study of Adventist Health Study-1 has been ongoing since 1976.
Gary Fraser, MD, PHD