Are Malaysians Getting Cancer By Eating?


Did the title catch your attention? Good, but the definite answer to that question is “No, but you may not get cancer by eating but it is possible because diet is one of the risk factors of cancer.” It may not be a high-risk factor compared to smoking and alcohol, but cancer is known to be caused by an accumulation of carcinogens (substances that cause cancers). And these carcinogens can be found in food, naturally or artificially. Nowadays, we are exposed to carcinogens easily through the polluted air and high UV radiation from the sun (due to global warming). Add that to the carcinogens we are taking everyday in our meal, that’s why even healthy people can get cancer. In this article, we are going to talk about 3 carcinogenic food contamination in Malaysian food. Malaysia may be a food heaven, but remember, even in heaven there was a forbidden fruit.

Here are the 3 carcinogenic food contaminations that can be found in Malaysian delicacy:

  • Nasi, or rice, and Peanuts (Aflatoxins)

Aflatoxins are produced by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. These are molds that grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and grains. A high amount of aflatoxin accumulation has caused liver cancer, and tumor and colon tumors in laboratory studies of rodents, primates and fish. In Malaysia, aflatoxins contamination can commonly be found in peanuts and rice. “ For example, in a study by Soleimany et al. (2012a), 33.3% of analyzed rice from the retail market had detectable level of aflatoxin ranging from 0.19 to 3.96ng/g,” stated by Sabran Mohd-Redzwan in his article titled A Mini Review on Aflatoxin Exposure in Malaysia: past, present, and future. Although the levels are not so high that they can harm us, it was a surprise finding because rice is the main staple food in a Malaysian meal. We, Malaysians, are big fans of rice. We can have Nasi lemak for breakfast, either Nasi Ayam or Nasi Campur for lunch, and for dinner? No harm another round of Nasi Lemak. Eating Nasi Lemak or any nasi meal may be harmless once in a while, but as Sabran Mohd-Redzwan stated in the same article:

"Statistically, Malaysians consume rice about 289.68g/day (Ministry of Health [MOH], 2006). Thus it is assumed that dietary aflatoxin exposure from rice is somewhere between 55.04ng/day and 1.15μg/day [288.68g/day×0.19 or 3.96ng/g] for an adult of 60kg. Given that the aflatoxin-contaminated rice is consumed on a regular basis, this small amount of aflatoxin at the end will be accumulated in the body and can be detrimental to the health as previously reported.”

Also, peanuts in the Nasi Lemak, are a common aflatoxin food contamination too.

  • Ikan Masin, or Salted Fish (N-nitrosodimethylamine)

 Once in a while, some people love to eat some ikan masin. The saltiness of the fish can even make a dull meal better. Carcinogens, like nitrosodimethylamine and other N-nitroso compounds, are present as a result of certain methods used to make the salted fish.  Studies have linked nitrosodimethylamine and other N-nitroso compound to the cancers of liver, nasopharynx, stomach and esophagus. Although most Malaysians in the city do not consume ikan masin on a daily basis, people whose livelihoods depends on fishing, like in kampung or near the sea, may eat them more often.

  • Ulam, or raw veggies (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane)

Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and other harmful pesticides are not only well-known to cause liver and breast cancer, but also other health problems. Although it is mostly banned in developed countries, it is still being used in some parts of the world. Farmers prefer these pesticides because it’s effective, it’s cheap and, as  Dr. Lemuel Ng and Will Chua said in their TEDx talk in 2016, “everything dies”.

Dr. Lemuel Ng and Will Chua was talking about a Thailand unnamed black liquid that was being used in the Cameron highlands. However, in 2013, UKM team, led by Prof Dr Md Pauzi Abdullah from the School of Chemical Sciences and Food Technology, has found traces of endosulfan, edrine ketone, aldrin and DDE — a derivative of the dangerous DDT — were found in six sampling sites at Cameron highlands.

Strict actions may have been taken by authorities, this year. However, just to be safe, make sure your ulam are washed properly before consumption or go for organic veggies.

What can YOU do?

Other than taking hygienic measures, we can also include supplements that have anticancer/anti-oxidant properties in our diet. One interesting supplement that has high anticancer property is Black Seed Oil. This is seen to have an anticancer compound called thymoquinone, which is found in the extract of Nigella sativa flower (fennel flower or commonly called black cumin). It is not only well known for its anticancer properties but also for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-epilepsy properties. Including foods rich in anti-oxidants in the diet can also help fight the free radicals that cause cancer.

Although it may seem impossible to avoid fully from carcinogenic food contamination in our food, however with awareness of it, we are able to take preventive measures and counter action in our diet.

Azim Nasaruddin

by Azim Nasaruddin

A graduated doctor, currently waiting for his placement in a Malaysian hospital. An aspiring oncologist who is determined to increase health awareness to the Malaysian public through his love and passion in medicine and writing. "“For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” – Owen Arthur View all articles by Azim Nasaruddin.


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