Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Here we go again...high protein diets do NOT cause cancer

Have you seen the latest sensationalized headline?

"High-protein diet 'as bad for health as smoking"
Research finds that people who eat diet rich in animal protein carry similar cancer risk to those who smoke 20 cigarettes each day

I mean, it is pretty hard to become more head-turning than that...yet, unfortunately, that is what our society has become - sensationalized headlines. Majority of individuals will either hear that "study headline" on the TV or radio, or maybe they will even read it on the internet. This will ultimately result in a quick knee-jerk reaction something akin to, "See, see, see, I told you high protein diets are bad for you! That guy George down at the gym keeps telling me that I should eat more protein, but I am certain it is no good for my kidneys...."

I will admit, there is far too much content for any one individual to take in on a daily basis, now with such a connected world and "news" coming in from various sources, it is hard to read through everything that comes at you on a daily basis. So, in an attempt to gain as many readers as possible, catchy or polarizing headlines are now the 'norm' to catch as much attention as possible. The only problem here, and trust me, it's a big one, is that most people don't actually read the article, they just "gain their knowledge" from just the headline alone.

I can't believe I actually have to say this, but protein does not cause cancer...far from it. Not only that, but eating protein should never be compared to smoking...holy crap!

The biggest problem with any diet and lifestyle study is this simple fact: correlation does not mean causality.

Just because someone ate a higher protein diet over their lifetime and ended up dying prematurely due to cancer, one should not jump to any conclusions that it was the protein that in fact caused the cancer. Fair enough, so what should we study?

Well, the next logical step is to view overall trends. Fair enough, that is what this study attempted to do. However, even when studying overall trends, you need to account for variations in other dietary factors and lifestyles, i.e. exercise (something this study failed to factor in, by the way) which is essentially impossible to do with nearly infinite variations in day-to-day lifestyle and diet choices from one individual to the next.

To create the best possible scientific study, one would need to take a human being from birth, lock them in a room and only allow them to eat or drink one specific item for the duration of their life to study its individual effects over a long term. Of course this is impossible due to, well, you know, human ethics obstacles.

Not only that, but a diet that revolves around one single item or food category is not good for us anyways. It is best for us to have well-rounded diets rather than whatever is 'catchy' that week, month, or year. Specific diets may be extremely successful in helping you lose weight or get lean, but that does not necessarily mean that you are giving your body all of the vitamins and nutrients that it needs.

If you can, head on over to this article to read a fantastic summary of the study. Here is their summary:


This study has found a link between high protein intake and increased risk of death among people aged 50-65, but not older adults. There are some important points to bear in mind when thinking about these results: