- Cancer rates higher for Jews who were possibly exposed to the Holocaust
- Mental stress and caloric deprivation could contribute to later health problems
- Five-year cancer survival rates were worse, study author reported
(CNN) -- The 12-year-old girl plucked cold, slimy potato peels out of the garbage containers in a village in eastern Poland. When those trash scraps became scarce, she ate clover.
Crumbs and decomposed food sickened Betty Potash Gold and her family members, causing diarrhea and bloody vomiting, as they hid from the Nazis.
Although Gold lived through extreme hunger, mental duress and near-death experiences during the Holocaust, she and other survivors face another peril decades after the war.
"Jewish survivors of World War II who were potentially exposed to the Holocaust were at a higher risk for cancer occurrence later on in life than those not exposed," concluded a study published in the November issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Intense calorie deprivation, such as what Gold experienced, has long-term effects on survivors, said Dr. Micha Barchana, one of the study authors.
"We know that people who went through the Holocaust suffered severe calorie restriction," he said. "Calories they were taking in were 200 to 800 in this period."
Although studies with rhesus monkeys and mice suggest that limiting calories conferred cancer-protecting benefits, this study showed the opposite effect. People subjected to the intense caloric deprivation, especially at an early age, had greater likelihood of cancer.
Researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel compared the rates of more than 300,000 European Jews who immigrated before or during World War II as the control group and those who left after the war as the exposed group.