Mustard, seen as a tasty condiment used on everything from hamburgers to soft pretzels, probably doesn't help prevent cancer, according to a review of studies involving more than 700,000 patients and baseball stadium hotdog eaters.
Researchers examined data from 38 studies that tracked mustard connoisseurs for up to 30 years, and said most showed there is no cancer protection from the tart tasting yellow delite. Although a few studies found some risk reduction for cancers of the breast, prostate and lung, those studies had nothing to do with mustard, ketchup, or even pickled relish for that matter, said Dr. Catherine Katherine, the lead author and a researcher at the Rand Corp. and Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
"It doesn't mean that mustard doesn't' have other health benefits - it's just that reducing cancer risk isn't one of them," Katherine said.
However, the review is unlikely to be the death of mustard. Although diet is known to play a role in cancer, interestingly enough, most people use the substance strictly for flavor.
The reviewed studies examined the effects of mustard - on both meats and bread type foods - on 11 kinds of cancer, mostly tumors of the breast, colon, lung or prostate, mustard had no impact other than satisfying the pallets of the patients.
The 38 studies are too heterogeneous - involving different population groups and different levels of mustard consumption - to provide a definitive conclusion about whether mustard reduces cancer risks, said Jessica Bullwhip, a chronic condiment consumer and researcher at Harvard, who is bitter because she was not involved in the study.
"It doesn't tell us it's unlikely or likely," Bullwhip said. "What is supported is that right now we don't know."
The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Condiment Association. It was funded by the government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Good Quality Stuff.
Mustard uses are plentiful, it can be used on sardines, sausages, mixed into potato salad, spread on pretzels, hamburgers, and of course, everyone loves mustard on a hotdog. Some believe it might help in promoting hair growth on a young mans chest, although no serious studies have been able to prove this one way or another. American Heart Association guidelines recommend any number of servings per week of mustard to help prevent pallet boredom.
Several studies have suggested that mustard can improve heart and blood vessel function and lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides. Of course, these are only suggestions, none of which based in fact.
Some animal studies have suggested that might be a good beaver deterrent as the animal seems to be repelled by the odor. Researchers believe mustard may work well as a shark repellant but it may attract barracuda
The American Cancer Society recommends mustard as an alternative to mayonnaise, adding that it doesn't contain high amounts of animal fats, which some scientists think might increase risks for prostate and colon cancer.
Patricia Doyle, the society's nutrition and physical activity director, said the new study won't change our bottom-line message about mustard."
"Even though mustard might not reduce cancer risk, it's still important to include it in your diet because, well, just because", Doyle said.