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NO.453 12.10.2018

Cancer Prevention through Nutritional Epidemiology Research

On November 12, the ten recipients of the Young Researcher Award 2018 were jointly announced by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) and Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of open access journals.  

This award is presented to selected researchers who are Korean nationals under the age of 40, helping them to elevate their stature on the world stage. Professors Jae Woong Jung of the Department of Advanced Materials Engineering for Information & Electronics and Youjin Je of the Department of Food and Nutrition of Kyung Hee University were among the honored. The two professors were interviewed twice, first on their personal feelings and performance records and then on their research plans going forward. In this second part of the series, I met with Professor Youjin Je.


Discussing the effects of coffee consumption on colorectal and endometrial cancers
Q: You have been selected for the Young Researcher Award 2018; I would like to hear your feelings on this.


A: It’s an honor. Above all else, I would like to thank the Dean of the College of Human Ecology and my colleagues at the Department of Food and Nutrition, who have supported my ongoing research efforts since my appointment at Kyung Hee in September 2012. The graduate students at the Nutritional Epidemiology Laboratory have been a great help as well. 

Q: I understand you have been deeply engaged in nutritional epidemiology research. What kind of research is this?

A: It seeks to understand the dietary and nutritional intake status of various defined population groups as well as to analyze their associated risks of disease. Importantly, we apply meta-analyses in epidemiological research to discover ways to control or prevent cancer. Meta-analyses of cancer clinical trials are also used to research diverse side-effects of anticancer drugs. My work has been published with high paper citation in such leading journals as The Lancet Oncology, JAMA, and Journal of Clinical Oncology

Specifically, a meta-analysis of cohort studies has suggested the possibility that regular coffee consumption may lower not only the risks of getting colorectal and endometrial cancers but also the mortality rate from them. Taking high amounts of Vitamin D has also been shown to improve the survival rate of breast cancer victims.


Recently, the meta-analysis of Korea’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data was used in a study on dietary factors to find ways to control and prevent both metabolic syndrome and depression. The incidence rate of metabolic syndrome has skyrocketed inside Korea as well as globally. The number of people suffering depression is also increasing every year with a significantly high rate among the young people in their 20s. This research was conducted in the hope of helping these people.   


Producing the scientific basis for guiding the dietary habits of cancer survivors. 

Q: I wonder how nutritional epidemiology research can affect people in real life.

A: We tend to encounter bits of nutritional epidemiology research through the everyday media such as a new clip that says “Drinking at least two cups of coffee a day is good for health.” But there also are articles that say the exact opposite. Research findings depend upon how the study is designed, but the media does not take such matters into account when they inflate some facts to make catchy headlines. This practice has caused confusion among the public.  

Therefore, the Department of Food and Nutrition now offers a lecture on “Food Nutrition and the Media.” When confronted by such articles, even those starting out as food and nutrition specialists must be able to confirm, properly interpret, and explain to others whether the research design is credible, whether it was a cohort study or cross-section research, and whether clinical trials were conducted. Only then will people properly accept the findings of nutritional epidemiology research and be able to take proper care of their health.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: In the past, people diagnosed with cancer felt they had received a death sentence, but today cancer has become a manageable chronic disease that requires constant supervision, in the same way high blood pressure and diabetes do. Epidemiological research has shown how various dietary factors can accelerate the spread of cancer or suppress tumor growth. We are planning to conduct meta-analyses of such studies to determine how dietary factor exposure levels can improve survival rates. I want to create the scientific basis that offers cancer survivors a guide for properly managing their dietary habits.  


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