Women who follow a healthy, plant-based diet after menopause have a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new French study.
French scientists have discovered how not to get breast cancer after menopause. After monitoring more than 65,000 women for two decades, the researchers found that those who followed a healthy, plant-based diet had a 14% lower risk of developing any type of breast cancer, on average.
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But the emphasis is on the word “healthy”. The risk of developing breast cancer was reduced only in those women whose diet contained a significant amount:
- vegetable oils;
- tea or coffee – even though red meat and poultry were sometimes included in this diet.
In contrast, another group of older women ate a predominantly plant-based diet that was considered relatively unhealthy because it contained:
- fruit juices with high sugar content.
- refined cereals;
- drinks and / or desserts with sugar.
In this case, the risk of developing breast cancer increased by about 20%.
Sanam Shah, lead author of the study, said the findings “emphasize that increasing healthy plant foods and reducing unhealthy plant foods can help prevent all types of breast cancer.”
However, he added, there should be a warning: “Not all plant-based diets are created equal.”
How not to get breast cancer after menopause: a study
“Because meat-free diets are generally considered healthy, some people may find this finding surprising,” said Shah, a doctor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Paris-Saclay in France.
But Shah and her colleagues did not focus on women who did not drink meat. None of their patients were vegetarian or vegan.
Instead, the researchers focused on those whose diets included some meat and poultry, but were mostly plant-based.
They then looked at whether a healthier plant-based diet had an effect on breast cancer risk compared to less healthy options, something that previous work had generally overlooked.
For the study, French women (mean age 53 years) completed nutritional questionnaires in 1993 and again in 2005.
Patients were classified as having a predominantly animal or plant-based diet.
On average, over the age of 21, nearly 4,000 women have developed breast cancer.
The team found that those who ate the healthiest, plant-based diets had a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer. For those who ate less healthy plant foods, the risk increased significantly.
As for the reasons, Shah suggested that the high fiber content of healthy plant foods “can reduce the risk of cancer through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.”
But he also stressed that more research would be needed because “the causal mechanisms of the association between a plant-based healthy diet and the risk of breast cancer have not yet been fully elucidated.”
Shah also warned that it remained unclear whether the findings apply to younger women. This is because “there are differences between the premenopausal and the postmenopausal period in terms of developing breast cancer.”
The results of the study were presented online by Sanam Shah on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Nutrition Society. The results should be considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
How not to get breast cancer after menopause: start at 20
Dallas-based nutritionist Lona Sandon agrees that more research is needed.
However, switching to a healthy, plant-based diet is almost always profitable, especially for those starting at an early age, said Sandon, director of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center School of Health Professions. He did not participate in the study.
“The difference between healthy plant foods and unhealthy ones is mainly in the way they are processed or prepared,” he said.
“In general, the more processing, the greater the reduction in quality due to changes in the balance of nutrients or the addition of ingredients.”
Given this difference, the scientist added that “there is no disadvantage in choosing poorly processed plant foods for each person, when it comes to cancer risk.”
“However, we must be realistic in our expectations,” Sandon warned.
“If you wait until the age of 55, damaged or cancer cells may already be starting to progress. “So the benefit of reducing the risk is likely to be much less than if you were on a healthy, plant-based diet by the age of 20.”
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