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Diet nutrition and cancer. By the Committee on Diet Nutrition and Cancer Assembly of Life Sciences NRC. Washington National Academy Press. 1982. XIX + 449 pp. references glossary appendix. $13

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foreign literature references are generally
undecipherable. There are 70 such literature
misspellings overall, and in one reference, up
to five (Schmid, E.). An index that could have
been of great help is not provided.
In sum, the author contradicts himself too
often and does not adhere to standard taxonomic nomenclature. The book is characterized by poor editing and lacks evidence of
proofreading. At best it could be used as a
basic source by specialists already well acquainted with the facts. In such a case the
book’s usefulness lies in the morphological
description it provides.
Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer,
Assembly of Life Sciences, NRC. Washington: National Academy Press. 1982. xix +
449 pp., references, glossary, appendix.
$13.50 (paper).
This recent text by a committee of specialists assembled by the National Academy of
Sciences, research contracted for by the National Cancer Institute, is jam-packed with
useful information and also a pleasure to
read. The writers have successfully sifted and
evaluated a vast literature full of controversy and produced a careful, convincing, and
scientifically objective analysis.
Research results from hundreds of human
epidemiological studies, animal experimental studies, and in vitro tests for genetic toxicity are reviewed in an effort to disentangle
dietary and nutritional factors or groups of
factors that increase or decrease the probability of developing cancer. The introductory
chapters detail the multistep origin of cancer
and the numerous problems associated with
identifying dietary cause for a set of disorders in which initiation and expression of
abnormality may be separated by 20 or more
years. Subsequent chapters cover most of the
known macro and micronutrients, nonnutritional constituents of diet (e.g., food additives, food contaminants such as molds or
processing chemicals, mutagens found naturally in foods), and patterns of diet and cancer
(race, geography, class, specific body sites).
The text focuses on the assessment of available evidence of dietary cause. Subjects not
Gantt, GD, Xirotiris, NI, Kurten, B, and Melentis, J
(1980)The Petralona dentition-hominid or cave bear?
J. Hum. Evol. 9:483-486.
Henning, G, Herr, W, Weber, E, and Xirotiris, N (1981)
ESR-dating of the fossil hominid cranium of Petralona
Cave, Greece. Nature 292t533-536.
Schultz, M, and Xirotiris, N (1981)Histologische Untersuchungen an dem Hominiden-Schadel und Tierknochen aus der Petralona Hohle. JMAA 1t308-332.
Institut der Anthropologie und
Universitat Frankfurt a M.
Federal Republic of Germany
discussed include the clinical implications of
the findings, dietary therapies, and adjunctive dietary regimens. The researchers conclude their analysis by offering a set of
Interim Dietary Guidelines designed to help
prevent cancer.
These guidelines, though appropriately
conservative and clearly derivative from the
observational evidence, are labelled “interim” because the researchers feel that our
current knowledge of the relationship between cancer and diet is “similar to that for
cigarettes 20 years ago” (p. 1-11and therefore
not adequate for greater decisiveness. Additionally, as they emphasize, the relationships
will probably be harder to trace and establish
than were those for cigarettes, for diet is a
far more complex behavior than cigarette
smoking. Nevertheless, the researchers have
enough confidence to state that “cancers of
most major sites are influenced by dietary
patterns” (p. 1-14)and that widespread utilization of a cancer-protective diet by Americans could reduce the incidence of cancer by
one-third (p.2-9). This reduction, combined
with the advantages accrued by abolishing
(sic) smoking “would be roughly equivalent
to the reduction in mortality from the infectious diseases brought about by improved hygiene and better health care delivery during
the nineteenth century” fp. 2-9).
On available evidence five factors are considered strongly cancer-promoting: high-fat
diets; use of alcohol; the presence of aflatoxins, other mycotoxins, and nitrates or nitrites in foods; the presence of mutagens in
foods, especially those introduced by preparation techniques such a s salting, char-cook-
ing, or smoking; and the use of certain food
additives. Apparently the source of fat in the
diet is less important than simple excess, but
(ironically?) polyunsaturated fats appear to
be more tumorigenic than saturated fats if
persons are consuming low-fat diets. The latter, of course, are now widely recommended
for weight control and protection from circulatory disease. Numerous additives have already been found to be carcinogenic and have
been banned, and more continue to be, but
the problem of avoiding carcinogenic additives is exacerbated by the fact that the rate
of introduction of new additives outstrips the
rate at which existing ones can be tested for
safety. Carcinogenic preparation techniques
tend to be localized geographically or culturally and associated with increased rates of
cancers at specific sites. Similarly, aflatoxinassociated cancers are most common in areas
where control of aflatoxin-contaminated
foodstuffs is poor.
Some dietary factors appear to be cancerprotective. These include dietary fiber, vitamins A, C , and E, selenium, beta-carotenerich vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables
(cabbage family).
In accordance with these findings, the Interim Dietary Guidelines recommend a reduction in the total fats in the U.S. diet;
increased use of fruits, vegetables, and whole
grains, especially citrus, cruciferous, and carotene-rich vegetables; decreased use of salted,
pickled, and smoked foods, and alcohol and
cigarettes; and continued efforts to identify
mutagens in foods and to avoid contamination of foods with carcinogens from any
The text is long but highly readable. This
is not only because the authors are organized, write simply, and define their terms,
but also because they exhibit a refreshing
concern with objectivity and fairness in dealing with conflicting theories or experimental
results, and because they are unusually sensitive to nuances of the English language.
For example, the writers are to be congratulated for using the term human (not “man”)
nearly throughout the text. The exception to
this sensitivity-in chapter 16-is serious
enough to merit special mention. In this
chapter race (inherited) and ethnicity
(learned) are confused; if the authors fear the
word race, they can appropriately substitute
other terms such as extraction, ancestry, or
genetic derivation. It is to be hoped that a
second edition or printing will correct this
Anthropologists of several ilks will find
much of potential research interest in this
book. For example, the cancer-protective diet
not only closely matches the improved diet
proposed a few years ago in the (controversial!) U.S. Dietary Guidelines and recommendations long made by health-foodists, but
is also the sort of diet humans have presumably consumed during most of their evolutionary history. The implication of many
studies quoted in the text is that the destructive effects of carcinogens in foodstuffs or
diets can be controlled or cancelled by the
simultaneous presence of cancer-protective
substances. Thus there is material for both
the sociohistorian and the evolutionary biologist, as in the comparative analysis of traditional dietaries, or the reconstruction of
the health quality of prehistoric diets combined with paleopathological analysis. Medical anthropoligists might find meat (pun) for
comparative research in the emically defined
cancer-preventive diets of nonorthodox medical systems,, such as macrobiotics or naturopathy. Finally, despite the simplicity of the
guidelines, their low risk, and apparent benefit, on past experience it can probably be
predicted that they will meet with resistance. The causes of this resistance, too, are
researchable, both as psychological and as
sociocultural processes.
In summary, this book is useful as a source
of factual and bibliographic materials, and
as a starting point for creative research. As
a bonus, it is also well written and highly
Ofice of Znternational Programs
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
Barash, DP (1983) Aging: A n Exploration.
Seattle: University of Washington Press.
240 pp. $14.95 (cloth).
Bonne-Tamir, B, Cohen, T and Goodman, RM
(eds.) (1982) Human Genetics, Part A: The
Unfolding Genome. New York: Alan R.
Liss. 560 pp. $88.00 (cloth).
Brewer, GJ, and Sing, CF (1983) Genetics.
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