Eating to Beat Breast Cancer
More and more, it is becoming clear that some breast cancer risk factors are modifiable by behaviors that we can control with our daily choices. The latest research on this topic points to the power of diet for beating this common disease.
The A, B, Carotenoids of reducing risk
For this research, 5,707 women with breast cancer and 6,389 women without were asked about their diet five years prior to enrollment in the study. Researchers were particularly interested in how many carotenoid-rich foods these women typically ate.
Carotenoids, also called carotenes, are the naturally-occurring nutrients found in brightly colored vegetables and fruit, and are believed to have cancer-preventive properties. These are the nutrients that give vegetables and fruit their bright orange, green, red, and yellow pigments.
The researchers found that among premenopausal women:
- Those who ate the most beta-carotene had 19% lower likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer than women eating the least beta-carotene.
- Those who ate the most alpha-carotene had 18% lower likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer than women eating the least alpha-carotene.
- Those who ate the most lutein and zeaxanthin had 17% lower likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer than women eating the least lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Among women who smoked, the protective effect of carotenoids against breast cancer was even stronger.
Among postmenopausal women, there were no clear trends showing a connection between carotenoids in the diet and breast cancer risk.
Getting your cancer-prevention rainbow of carotenes
This research suggests that among premenopausal women, eating a diet rich in carotenoids can protect against breast cancer. Before you conclude that carotenoid-rich foods and nutrients aren’t important for post-menopausal women, keep in mind that numerous other studies have shown a protective effect in this group. In short, you can’t go wrong by eating more carotenes!
The following tips will get you on your way to improved health and lower breast cancer risk:
- The women with the lowest breast cancer risk ate two or more servings of carotenoid-rich vegetables per day. Aim for this number at a minimum, and more is better.
- You can find plenty of beta-carotene in carrots, sweet potato, spinach, kale, collard greens, pumpkin, turnip greens, beet greens, cabbage, cantaloupe, broccoli, peppers, apricots, and peas.
- You can get your alpha-carotene fix from carrots, pumpkin, squash, plantains, vegetables juice, beans, green leafy vegetables, corn meal, tangerines, plums, raspberries, and corn.
- For lutein and zeaxanthin, which not only protect against breast cancer, but will keep your peepers (eyes) healthy, think green: spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, dandelion greens, Brussels sprouts, peas, broccoli, and lettuce.
- Don’t rely on dietary supplements for your carotene fix. Studies show that only food provides benefit and that for some people, such as smokers, carotene supplements do more harm than good.
(Int J Cancer 2009;124:2929-37)
July 16, 2009
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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