Diet can play a role in breast cancer prevention, some observational studies have found. While such studies do not demonstrate the cause and effect, eating more vegetables, more fiber and less red meat, for example, has been linked to a lower risk.
A study by Californian researchers published last week is the latest evidence to suggest that diet can help fight breast cancer.
Researchers at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center reported that a low-fat diet, including cereals and lots of vegetables and fruit, significantly reduces the risk of death from breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
The results, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, are preliminary until the publication of the study.
The study is the latest analysis of the dietary modification process of the Women's Initiative Health (WHI), a study begun in the 90s when researchers assigned healthy women, ages 50 to 79 years, to a diet low in fat (20% fat) or usual diet (32 percent fat). Women in the low-fat diet group were also asked to increase fruit and vegetable intake to five or more servings a day, to consume at least six daily servings of cereal and to limit high-meat and dairy products. of fat.
The study lasted for eight and a half years. The women assigned to the low-fat diet did not reach the goal of 20% fat, but they modestly reduced their fat intake and increased their intake of cereals, fruits and vegetables. They also changed their cooking methods and reduced meat and dairy intake.
At the end of the study, in 2005, women in the low-fat group were less numerous in breast cancer and breast cancer than in the usual diet group, but these results were not statistically significant (ie, they could have been a chance to find).
After the intervention, 85% of the participants were enrolled in an extension study that monitored them for another 20 years. Women who were on the low-fat diet arm of the trial received quarterly mailings offering advice on maintaining the low-fat diet.
The researchers found that women who were in the low-fat diet arm during the original study were 21% less likely to die from breast cancer than women who ate their usual diet.
The low-fat diet seemed to have an even greater effect on reducing breast cancer deaths in women with larger waist circumferences, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and / or diabetes.
These results come from a randomized controlled trial – the strongest cause and effect evidence – which involved about 49,000 women and included two decades of follow-up. But I'm not without caveats. The researchers do not know to what extent these women have maintained the low-fat diet during follow-up.
The dietary modifications of the women reached during the intervention period were not dramatic; it is possible that the participants were able to maintain these moderate dietary changes. But we don't know.
Meanwhile, existing evidence supports the adoption of the following eating and lifestyle habits to help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains every day. As part of a healthy diet, these foods offer fiber and phytochemicals (protective plant compounds), both designed to play a role in preventing breast cancer.
Include three (or more) cups of vegetables and two or three servings of fruit in your daily diet. Eat a variety of colored products to consume a wide variety of phytochemicals.
Choose whole grains rich in fiber such as oat, freekeh, millet, quinoa, brown rice, spelled berries, wheat berries and 100% whole wheat pasta and bread.
Eat less red meat. Some research has linked the excessive consumption of red meat, in particular red meat well done, to a higher risk of breast cancer.
Limit red meat to three meals a week. Replace red meat with other sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, beans and lentils or nuts.
Limit or avoid alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer. Limit no more than one drink per day. (One drink equals five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits.)
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a known risk factor for breast cancer, especially after menopause and for women who gain weight in adulthood. If you are healthy, be vigilant to keep it there. If you are carrying an extra weight, take steps to lose a little.
Be physically active. Many studies have found that regular exercise helps prevent breast cancer. Take aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.
Leslie Beck, a private practice dietician based in Toronto, is director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.
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