Glycaemic index, glycaemic load and cancer risk: results from the prospective NutriNet-Santé cohort

Int J Epidemiol. 2021 Sep 7;dyab169. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyab169. Online ahead of print.


Background: Evidence is accumulating that high dietary glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) are potential risk factors for several metabolic disorders (e.g. type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases), but remains limited concerning cancer risk. Although, mechanistic data suggest that consuming high-GI foods may contribute to carcinogenesis through elevated blood glucose levels, insulin resistance or obesity-related mechanisms. Our objective was to study the associations between dietary GI/GL and cancer.

Methods: In total, 103 020 French adults (median age = 40.2 years) from the NutriNet-Santé cohort (2009-2020) with no cancer or diabetes at baseline were included (705 137 person-years, median follow-up time = 7.7 years). Repeated 24-h dietary records linked with a detailed food-composition table (>3500 food/beverage items). We computed the average dietary GI and GL at the individual level. Associations between GI, GL, contribution of low- and medium/high-GI foods to energy and carbohydrate intake and cancer risk (overall, breast, prostate and colorectal) were assessed using multivariable Cox proportional-hazard models.

Results: Higher dietary GL was associated with higher overall cancer risk [n = 3131 cases, hazard ratios (HRs) for sex-specific quintile 5 vs 1 = 1.25, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.03-1.52; Ptrend = 0.008] and specifically postmenopausal breast cancer (n = 924, HRQ5vs.Q1 = 1.64, 95% CI = 1.06-2.55; Ptrend = 0.03). A higher contribution of low-GI food/beverages to energy intake was associated with lower cancer risk whereas a higher contribution of medium/high-GI items to energy intake was positively associated with higher risk of overall, breast and postmenopausal breast cancers (Ptrend ≤ 0.02).

Conclusions: These results support a possible impact of GI/GL on cancer risk. If confirmed in other populations and settings, dietary GI/GL could be considered as modifiable risk factors for primary cancer prevention.

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Keywords: breast cancer; cancer risk; glycaemic index; glycaemic load; prospective cohort.

Associated data