When we talk about nitrates We talk about a number of nutrients that have always been in nature but now, due to certain human activities, have altered their cycle and have started exponentially. This is the case, for example, of the nitrates that are released from the fertilizers used in agriculture or the excrement generated by intensive farming. These types of compounds remain impregnated in the soil and end up reaching the water we drink in minimal amounts. But what effect do these compounds have on our health? Is it true that it increases the risk of cancer? A study led by the Barcelona Global Institute (ISGlobal) suggests that the prolonged consumption of nitrate water could be another risk factor in the development of prostate cancer. But before falling into alarmism and throwing away the bottle of water, let’s analyze what exactly the study says.

The research, published this Wednesday in the scientific journal ‘Environmental Health Perspectives’, has analyzed two groups of patients. on the one hand, 679 people with prostate cancer diagnosed between 2008 and 2013. And on the other hand, other 927 healthy men No relevant diagnoses. Both were asked about their lifestyle, their place of residence and their water consumption habits to find out, for example, what diet they followed, how much they drank and whether it was from a bottle or from a tap. From there, the researchers calculation of the average nitrate to which they had been exposed in their adult lives. That is, from the age of 18.

The study finds a lower incidence of tumors among people who had followed healthy habits

The analysis of these cases draws the following panorama. People who have been exposed to increased amounts of water with nitrates are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer throughout his life. Exposure to these compounds, according to this analysis, could multiply by 1.6 the probability of developing a low or medium grade cancer and by 3 the probability of suffering a more aggressive tumor. This risk was especially prominent among people who followed other unhealthy habits such as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. In contrast, in people with high exposure to nitrates who had maintained a diet abundant in fiber, fruit, vegetables and vitamin C the risk of developing a tumor was lower.

Previous studies on exposure to nitrates have also found a certain relationship between the consumption of these substances and the risk of developing another type of cancer, such as bladder cancer. Does this mean that we should stop drinking water to avoid exposure to nitrates? The answer is a definit no.

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«Ingesting nitrates through water does not imply that prostate cancer is going to develop,» clarifies the researcher Carolina Donat-Vargas, from ISGlobal, as the first author of this research. «This study, like many others, suggests that nitrates could be another risk factor for the development of this disease, but this by itself does not mean anything. We also know that the major risk factors for developing cancer continue to be the consumption of alcohol and tobacco and that does not mean that all people who drink and smoke will end up having a tumor», highlights the scientist.

«Ingesting nitrates through water does not imply that you will develop prostate cancer»

Carolina Donat-Vargas, researcher

the epidemiologist Javier del Aguilaof the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), also highlights the importance of put the results in context of this type of study. «This type of study should not cause alarmism,» says the expert. «These investigations do not make it possible to establish a direct connection between a cause and an effect. They only guarantee a first clue to assess the risk of certain substances and suppose an incentive to continue research«, highlights the scientist in statements to EL PERIÓDICO.

«This type of study should not cause alarmism»

Javier del Águila, epidemiologist

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In this sense, Donat-Vargas also agrees, who highlights the need to continue studying the possible effects of these substances on health. «What we do hope is that this study, together with, can contribute to the review of other allowed levels of nitrate in the water so as to guarantee that they do not imply a risk to human health,» the expert points out. At times, European directives ensure a legal maximum of 50 milligrams of nitrate per liter of water.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the major risk factors to develop cancer are the tobacco and alcohol use, exposure to environmental pollution or factors such as having a high body mass index, lack of physical activity or following a diet rich in ultra-processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables. The National Cancer Institute of the United States, for its part, also highlights the ‘burden’ Factors such as age, family history or genetic alterations in the development of this type of disease.