During my daily nutrition reads, I stumbled upon this great new study:
Carcinoma of the Breast: Risk Reduction Through Dietary Modification in Pubertal and Adolescent Females
Nicole Lazarri MS, RD is Founder and Chief Nutrition Officer at Nourish Our Girls, an educational campaign which raises awareness about young girls’ food choices may increase or decrease their risk for breast cancer later in life. This is her thesis. I love it.
Because long-term, prospective controlled trials comparing food intake during childhood and teenage years to adult breast cancer occurrence is not feasible, the team relied on restrospective cohort studies and epidemiological research (including the China Study).
Cancer occurs in three stages:
Initiation – when a healthy cell is damaged, causing an abnormal cell with an altered DNA
Promotion – when that damaged cell replicates, creating more abnormal cells
Progression – when these abnormal cells cluster to form masses, permeate tissues and disrupt normal functioning
Diet has been seen to strongly influence each one of these stages in either a positive or negative way. In other words, some foods initiate these stages (excessive animal proteins and fats, refined grains, sugars, etc) and some foods inhibit these stages (cruciferous vegetables, whole soy foods, high fiber foods).
Although it would be optimal to always eat healthy, the pubertal period appears to be a critical time to do so because of new cell development occurring within breast tissue. A poor, nutrient lacking diet during breast development increases the risk of cancer initiation in the breast. Dr. Katz writes a great metaphor about this:
Think of it this way: The breast is like a tree that grows from a seedling. If the seedling is exposed to health supportive nutrients, it is much more likely to develop a strong root system and grow into a mature tree that is able to withstand the storms mother nature may send its way. If that same seedling were starved of nutrients and exposed to toxins or anti-nutrients instead, it may still eventually grow into a full-sized tree. But without the foundation of a robust and healthy root system, that tree will likely be weaker and more susceptible to broken branches or uprooting when storms hit.
High intakes of these foods during childhood and adolescents were found to increase the risk of breast cancer:
- Fats and proteins from animals – excessive dairy (high fat cheese, milk and yogurt products) and meats (particularly red meat)
- Processed grains and sugary products- white bread, processed crackers, pastries, cookies, bagels, pastas, cereals, sodas
While these were found to decrease risk:
- Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale
- Whole soy products – tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso
- Plant based fats – olive and sunflower oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish rich in omega 3 such as salmon and mackerel
- Plant based proteins – beans and legumes, soy
- Unrefined and minimally processed whole grains – whole wheat breads and pastas, grains and cereals
This looks like nothing more than a well balanced vegetarian diet. Kudos to vegetarianism once again!
Didn’t eat a vegetarian diet during childhood and adolescents? Don’t fret. Maintaining a healthy diet even now could theoretically influence the DNA of your cells and stave off the progression of cancer stages.