Fast foods to cancer
Diseases follows abandoning traditional diets

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 17/98) - Many Dene and Inuit abandon their traditional diets when they move to Yellowknife, increasing their risk of cancer, according to the NWT's chief medical officer, Andre Corriveau.

Traditional aboriginal diets are high in marine mammals, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These oils provide "marked benefits," in reducing cancer, Corriveau said.

"Some of the changes we're seeing in terms of increasing rates of bowel cancer, for example, are linked to abandonment of traditional diets much more than (anything else.)"

Corriveau said that, although the NWT cancer rate is lower than the rest of Canada, prostate and breast cancer are specifically linked to dietary and lifestyle choices many make when they move from hamlets to the faster pace of life in Yellowknife, complete with fast-food restaurants.

"(Aboriginal diets) have benefits for the cardiovascular system. For example," he said. "Traditional diets haven't been as studied as other foods from the South." More research has been done on vegetables such as broccoli than whale blubber, he said.

Though Yellowknifers have more access to fast-food outlets than people in the rest of the territories, Corriveau said the junk food itself is not the problem.

"It's the fact that when you eat junk food you're missing some nutrients that you should have."

But to prevent cancers, there is more to watch than the amount of anti-oxidants in your diet.

With bowel cancer, the amount of fibre in a person's diet is also important to speed the transit time through intestines to make for less exposure.

Though moderate drinking lowers cholesterol, excessive alcohol is linked to throat and stomach cancer as well as breast cancer in women.

Despite dietary concerns, the biggest way to avoid cancer in the North is to not smoke.

"The cancer story in the North is still always lung cancer," said Rosella Stoesz of the Canadian Cancer Society. "It is the single-most preventable cancer that we have high rates of -- it's not a disease that you have a lot of survivors."

Stoesz said lung cancer is not always contracted through smoking. And, thinking of a late friend in Yellowknife who succumbed to the disease, Stoesz said many people contract it as a secondary cancer.

Regular screening and self-exams can detect cancers of the breast, tongue, mouth, colon, rectum, cervix, prostate and testes at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

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