A plant-based diet can help prevent breast cancer

By Alan Moses
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY, June 16, 2022 (HealthDay News) – Women who follow a healthy plant-based diet after menopause seem to face a significantly lower risk of breast cancershows a new French study.

After tracking more than 65,000 women for two decades, the researchers found that those who ate a healthy, mostly plant-based diet reduced their risk of developing any type of breast cancer by an average of 14 percent.

But the emphasis is on “healthy”. The risk of breast cancer has decreased only in women whose diets include a significant amount whole grainsfruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils and tea or coffee – even if red meat and poultry occasionally appear in the equation.

In contrast, there is no protective benefit among older women, whose mainly plant-based diet is considered relatively unhealthy due to the high reliance on sweet fruit juices, refined cereals, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages and / or desserts. In such women, the risk of breast cancer increases by about 20%.

Lead author Sanam Shah said the findings “emphasize that increasing the consumption of healthy plant foods and reducing the consumption of less healthy plant foods can help prevent all types of breast cancer. “

But the warning, she added, is clear: “Not all plant-based diets are equally healthy.”

Given that, in general, diets that exclude meat usually have a “positive” health image, some people may find this conclusion surprising, said Shah, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of Paris-Sakla in France.

But Shah and her colleagues did not focus on women who cut meat entirely. None of the women were vegetarian or vegan.

Instead, the researchers improved women whose diets included little meat and poultry while still mostly plant-based.

They then delved deeper into whether healthier plant foods have a different impact on breast cancer risk than less healthy options, an angle that is usually overlooked in previous studies.

For the study, French participants (average age 53) completed nutrition questionnaires in 1993 and again in 2005.

Women were classified as following a predominantly animal diet or a diet that was predominantly plant-based.

Over an average follow-up period of about 21 years, nearly 4,000 women have developed breast cancer.

The research team found that those who tend to eat the healthiest plant-based foods face a significantly lower risk of breast cancer; those who consume the least healthy plant-based diets see that their risk increases significantly.

As to why, Shah theorizes that high fiber in healthier plant-based diets “can reduce the risk of cancer through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. “

But she also stressed that more research will be needed, as “the causal mechanisms of the link between healthy plant-based diets and breast cancer risk are not yet fully understood.”

Shah also warned that it remains unclear whether the findings could apply to younger women. This is because “there are differences between pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer in terms of the development of breast cancer.”

The results of the study were presented by Shah online on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Nutrition Society. Findings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Lona Sandon, a nutritionist in Dallas, agreed that more research would be needed.

However, adopting a healthy plant-based diet is almost always profitable, especially for those starting young, said Sandon, program director of clinical nutrition at the School of Health Professions at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She was not part of the study.

“What distinguishes the difference between healthy plant foods and unhealthy plant foods is, to a large extent, the method of processing or preparation,” said Sandon. “In general, the more processing, the lower the quality due to changes in nutrients or added ingredients.”

Given this distinction, “there seems to be no shortage of choices of minimally processed plant foods for everyone when it comes to cancer risk,” she added.

“But we must be realistic in our expectations,” Sandon warned. “If you wait until you’re 55, damaged or cancer cells may have already begun to progress. So your risk-lowering benefits are likely to be much less than if you ate a healthy plant-based diet in your 20s. “

More info

The Cleveland clinic has more on plant-based diets and cancer.

SOURCES: Sanam Shah, MBBS, FCPS, MPH, PhD student, Epidemiology, Center for Research in Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Paris-Sacla, France; Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD, Program Director and Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Nutrition, School of Health Professions, Southwestern Medical Center, University of Texas, Dallas; Virtual Meeting of the American Nutrition Society, June 14-16, 2022

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