Parents of young daughters may want to keep their fridge stocked with plenty of fruits and vegetables. A new large-scale study suggests that women who eat more high-fiber foods during adolescence and young adulthood have a “significantly lower breast cancer risk” than those who eat less dietary fiber.
Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that breast cancer risk was 12 to 19 percent lower among women who ate more dietary fiber in early adulthood, depending on how much they ate. Additionally, eating a high amount of fiber during adolescence was also associated with a 16 percent lower risk of overall breast cancer and a 24 percent lower risk of breast cancer before menopause.
The more dietary fiber that women ate as youth, the lower the risk for breast cancer, according to a news release from Harvard School of Public Health. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics.
“From many other studies we know that breast tissue is particularly influenced by carcinogens and anticarcinogens during childhood and adolescence,” said Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study. “We now have evidence that what we feed our children during this period of life is also an important factor in future cancer risk.”
Breast cancer remains one of the top health concerns for women. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women overall, according to federal health statistics. Among Hispanic women, it is the leading cause of cancer death.
With roughly 200,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year in the United States, federal health officials are constantly gathering data and research to help women lower their risk.
In this particular study, which included 90,000 women, there was a strong inverse association between how much fiber was eaten and the incidence of breast cancer. Researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, a large, long-running investigation of different factors that affect women’s health.
“For each additional 10 grams of fiber intake daily—for example, about one apple and two slices of whole wheat bread, or about half a cup each of cooked kidney beans and cooked cauliflower or squash—during early adulthood, breast cancer risk dropped by 13 percent,” the news release states. “The greatest apparent benefit came from fruit and vegetable fiber.”
The authors speculated that by eating more fiber-rich foods, women were able to reduce high estrogen levels in the blood, which are strongly linked with breast cancer development.
“Previous studies of fiber intake and breast cancer have almost all been non-significant, and none of them examined diet during adolescence or early adulthood, a period when breast cancer risk factors appear to be particularly important,” said Maryam Farvid, visiting scientist at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study. “This work on the role of nutrition in early life and breast cancer incidence suggests one of the very few potentially modifiable risk factors for premenopausal breast cancer.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following recommendations to help women potentially lower their risk of breast cancer:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise at least four hours every week.
- Abstain from alcohol or limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals that are known to cause cancer.
- Limit exposure to radiation.
- Breastfeed any children you may have.
Ask your primary care doctor which breast cancer screenings are right for you. Screenings can help find breast cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
Bon Secours Hampton Roads also offers a free online breast cancer risk assessment to help women identify any medical or lifestyle conditions that may lead to the development of breast cancer.
Sources: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention