Skip to content

Two studies that look at the role of diet, weight, and obesity in breast cancer. From Science News:

Fighting cancer with dietary changes 

Calorie restriction during treatment for breast cancer changes cellular programming in a way that lowers the chance of metastases in mice. Breast cancer patients are often treated with hormonal therapy to block tumor growth, and steroids to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy. However, both treatments can cause a patient to have altered metabolism which can lead to weight gain. In fact, women gain an average of 10 pounds in their first year of treatment. Recent studies have shown that too much weight makes standard treatments for breast cancer less effective, and those who gain weight during treatment have worse cancer outcomes.

From Medical Daily:

Breast Cancer Patients Suffering From Obesity Face Higher Death Risk Than Healthy-Weight Women

Obesity increases the risk of another cancer, which adds to the long list of life-threatening health hazards that accompany obesity. A new study reveals more evidence that obesity is a risk factor for cancer prognosis and its development, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago on May 30.

Researchers found that out of the 80,000 women in the study who had early stage breast cancer, obesity increased the risk of death by 34 percent for women who were pre-menopausal and were susceptible to higher levels of the hormone estrogen.

"No matter how we look at it, obesity is slated to replace tobacco as the leading modifiable risk for cancer," Dr. Clifford Hudis, ASCO president and chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Medicine Service in New York, announced at a news conference.

Fat tissue produces an excess amount of estrogen, and those with increased levels have been associated with the risk of breast cancer. Obese women unquestionably have more fat tissue, which is why their estrogen levels are naturally higher. This leads to a more rapid growth of estrogen-responsive breast tumors. Obese patients also have increased level of insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1, which has been known to promote the development of tumor tissue.

They did find, as they had expected, there was no link between obesity and breast cancer death risk among women who were postmenopausal and either had an estrogen receptor positive or estrogen receptor negative breast cancer. This meant the tumors did not rely on estrogen to grow at a time in a woman’s life when her estrogen levels are fairly low.

Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of many other common cancers as well, which include colon, pancreas, esophagus, kidney, thyroid, gallbladder, and endometrium. Endometrial cancer is found within the lining of the uterus, and those who are obese increase risk by up to 40 percent.

Please note that in the following study 200 grams is a measure of weight, and a little over a cup of many fruits and vegetables. Some examples: blueberries 1 cup=190 grams, green peas 1 cup=145 grams, but young salad greens 1 cup=20 grams. From Medical Daily:

Consuming Up To 200 Grams Of Fruits And Vegetables Will Decrease Your Stroke Risk

It’s not surprising that fruits and vegetables are the key to various health benefits, and now researchers are emphasizing their importance for reducing the risk of stroke.

In the study, researchers found that the stroke risk declined by 32 percent for the participants who ate 200 grams of fruit per day — and decreased by 11 percent for every 200 grams of daily vegetables. “Improving diet and lifestyle is critical for heart and stroke risk reduction in the general population,” Dr. Yan Qu, senior study author and director of the intensive care unit at Qingdao Municipal Hospital in China, said in a news release. “In particular, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is highly recommended because it meets micronutrient and macronutrient and fiber requirements without adding substantially to overall energy requirements.”

Authors of the study reviewed 20 studies over the course of 19 years that involved over 760,000 people throughout the U.S., Asia, and Europe. The beneficial effects of fruits and vegetables were apparent across the board in both men and women. 

 

This study was done on mice, but it would be great if it also holds true for human eyes. Another benefit from daily drinking of coffee! From Science Daily:

A cup of coffee a day may keep retinal damage away, study shows

Aside from java's energy jolt, food scientists say you may reap another health benefit from a daily cup of joe: prevention of deteriorating eyesight and possible blindness from retinal degeneration due to glaucoma, aging and diabetes.

Raw coffee is, on average, just 1 percent caffeine, but it contains 7 to 9 percent chlorogenic acid (CLA), a strong antioxidant that prevents retinal degeneration in mice, according to a Cornell study published in theJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (December 2013).

The retina is a thin tissue layer on the inside, back wall of the eye with millions of light-sensitive cells and other nerve cells that receive and organize visual information. It is also one of the most metabolically active tissues, demanding high levels of oxygen and making it prone to oxidative stress. The lack of oxygen and production of free radicals leads to tissue damage and loss of sight.

In the study, mice eyes were treated with nitric oxide, which creates oxidative stress and free radicals, leading to retinal degeneration, but mice pretreated with CLA developed no retinal damage.

Previous studies have shown that coffee also cuts the risk of such chronic diseases as Parkinson's, prostate cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and age-related cognitive declines.

Excellent reason to enjoy coffee every day. From Science Daily:

Increasing consumption of coffee associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, study finds

New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) shows that increasing coffee consumption by on average one and half cups per day (approx 360ml) over a four-year period reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 11%. 

The authors examined the associations between 4-year changes in coffee and tea consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in the subsequent 4 years.

The authors used observational data from three large prospective, US-based studies in their analysis: the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) (female nurses aged 30-55 years, 1986-2006), the NHS II (younger female nurses aged 25-42 years 1991-2007), and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) (male professionals 40-75 years, 1986-2006). The final analysis included 48,464 women in NHS, 47,510 women in the NHS II, and 27,759 men in HPFS.

The authors documented 7,269 incident type 2 diabetes cases, and found that participants who increased their coffee consumption by more than 1 cup/day (median change=1.69 cups/day) over a 4-year period had a 11% lower risk of type 2 diabetes in the subsequent 4-years compared to those who made no changes in consumption. Participants who decreased their coffee intake by 1 cup a day or more (median change=-2 cups/day) had a 17% higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Changes in tea consumption were not associated with type 2 diabetes risk.

Those with highest coffee consumption and who maintained that consumption -- referred to as "high-stable consumers" since they consumed 3 cups or more per day -- had the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes, 37% lower than the "low-stable consumers" who consumed 1 cup or less per day.

While baseline decaffeinated coffee consumption was associated with a lower type 2 diabetes risk, the changes in decaffeinated coffee consumption did not change this risk. 

More research on the benefits of exercise. From Science Daily:

Road to fountain of youth paved with fast food ... and sneakers? Exercise may prevent or delay fundamental process of aging

We all know that too much food combined with too little exercise can add up to poor health and disease. But overeating and inactivity also speed up the aging process, right down to our cells. At the end of a cell's lifespan, a process called senescence kicks in -- cells lose the ability to divide and begin to secrete substances that damage the surrounding cells. While unhealthy lifestyle habits can accelerate this process, researchers at the Mayo Clinic wanted to know if increased exercise could counteract it. 

The research team compared mice fed a fast food diet (FFD) for 5 months with those fed a standard chow diet (control). Unlike the controls, the FFD mice developed insulin sensitivity, impaired glucose tolerance, impaired exercise ability, and heart dysfunction. But when the FFD mice were given a running wheel, the exercise began to counteract the effects of a poor diet. White et al. observed a number of improvements including body weight, metabolism, and cardiac function. They also saw a significant decrease in signs of cell senescence and associated inflammation.

"Our data clearly show that poor nutritional choices dramatically accelerate the accumulation of senescent cells, and for the first time, that exercise can prevent or delay this fundamental process of aging. 

Flatulence is good, and up to 18 a day is totally normal! From NPR:

Got Gas? It Could Mean You've Got Healthy Gut Microbes

We know that air often comes after eating nutrient-packed vegetables, such as cabbage, kale and broccoli. And researchers have found that fiber-rich foods, like beans and lentils, boost the levels of beneficial gut bacteria after only a few days, as we reported in December.

So all this got us wondering: Could passing gas, in some instances, be a sign that our gut microbes are busy keeping us healthyAbsolutely, says Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "Eating foods that cause gas is the only way for the microbes in the gut to get nutrients," he says. "If we didn't feed them carbohydrates, it would be harder for them to live in our gut."

And we need to keep these colon-dwelling critters content, Kashyap says. When they gobble up food — and create gas — they also make molecules that boost the immune system, protect the lining of the intestine and prevent infections.

"A healthy individual can have up to 18 flatulences per day and be perfectly normal," he adds.

Gas gets into the digestive tract primarily through  two routes: Swallowing air (which we all do when we eat and chew gum) and your microbiome. That's the collection of organisms in the GI tract that scientists and doctors are currently all fired up about. (Check our colleague Rob Stein's recent series on it.) That microbiome includes hundreds of different bacteria. But there are also organisms from another kingdom shacking up with them: the archaea.

All these microbes are gas-making fools. They eat up unused food in your large intestine, like fiber and other carbohydrates we don't digest, and churn out a bunch of gases as waste. But that's not all they make. They also produce a slew of molecules (called short chain fatty acids) that may promote the growth of other beneficial bacteria and archaea.

And the more fiber you feed these friendly inhabitants, the more types of species appear, studies have found. "Undigested carbohydrates allow the whole ecosystem to thrive and flourish," Kashyap says. Most gas made by the microbiome is odorless. It's simply carbon dioxide, hydrogen or methane. But sometimes a little sulfur slips in there."That's when it gets smelly," Kashyap says.

But here's the hitch: Many of the smelly sulfur compounds in vegetables have healthful properties. Take for instance, the broccoli, mustard and cabbage family. These Brassica vegetables are packed with a sulfur compound, called sulforaphane, that is strongly associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Another possible benefit of a little smelly gas? It may reduce the total volume of air in the gut, Kashyap says. 

Good news for those who enjoy drinking a little wine. From Medical Xpress:

A little wine might help kidneys stay healthy

An occasional glass of wine might help keep your kidneys healthy, new research suggests. And for those who already have kidney disease, which puts one at higher risk for cardiovascular problems, moderate wine drinking might help the heart. the researchers added.

"Those [with healthy kidneys] who drank less than one glass of wine a day had a 37 percent lower risk of having chronic kidney disease than those who drank no wine," said study author Dr. Tapan Mehta, a renal fellow at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, in Aurora.

"Those with chronic kidney disease who drank less than one glass a day had a 29 percent lower risk of cardiovascular events [than those who drank no wine]," he added.

Mehta and his colleagues looked at data from the 2003 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination that included nearly 6,000 people. Of those, about 1,000 had chronic kidney disease.

Having chronic kidney disease increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. About 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, often caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Previous research has found that moderate drinking is linked to heart benefits.

Exactly why wine might do that is not known for sure, Mehta said. Drinking moderate amounts is linked with lower levels of protein in the urine. In those who have kidney disease, higher protein levels in the urine are linked with an increased risk of progression of kidney disease. The polyphenols found in wine have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may help explain the protective heart effects, he said.

It would be exciting if vitamin D supplementation improves cognitive function in the elderly. From Science Daily:

Vitamin D deficiency, cognition appear to be linked in older adults

Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive impairment are common in older adults, but there isn't a lot of conclusive research into whether there's a relationship between the two.

"This study provides increasing evidence that suggests there is an association between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline over time," said lead author Valerie Wilson, M.D., assistant professor of geriatrics at Wake Forest Baptist. "Although this study cannot establish a direct cause and effect relationship, it would have a huge public health implication if vitamin D supplementation could be shown to improve cognitive performance over time because deficiency is so common in the population."

Wilson and colleagues were interested in the association between vitamin D levels and cognitive function over time in older adults. They used data from the Health, Aging and Body composition (Health ABC) study to look at the relationship. The researchers looked at 2,777 well-functioning adults aged 70 to 79 whose cognitive function was measured at the study's onset and again four years later. Vitamin D levels were measured at the 12-month follow-up visit.

The Health ABC study cohort consists of 3,075 Medicare-eligible, white and black, well-functioning, community-dwelling older adults who were recruited between April 1997 and June 1998 from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn.

"With just the baseline observational data, you can't conclude that low vitamin D causes cognitive decline. When we looked four years down the road, low vitamin D was associated with worse cognitive performance on one of the two cognitive tests used," Wilson said. "It is interesting that there is this association and ultimately the next question is whether or not supplementing vitamin D would improve cognitive function over time."

An excellent reason to listen to your mother and eat your vegetables. From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site healthfinder.gov:

Vegetables in Childhood May Benefit Breast Health

Girls who ate the most fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids were less likely to get benign breast disease, a new study suggests.

Carotenoids are a group of pigments that typically produce an orange, red or dark green color. They are believed to have antioxidant properties that may guard against disease. Benign breast disease describes a variety of noncancerous conditions of the breast; some forms raise the risk of breast cancer. 

For her study, Boeke and her colleagues looked at food reports from 1996 through 1998 and then evaluated reports in 2005, 2007 and 2010 from girls who got a diagnosis of benign breast disease from a doctor after having a biopsy. In all, Boeke studied nearly 6,600 girls, and 122 reported a diagnosis of benign breast disease.

When she looked at carotenoid intake, she found high intakes were protective. "The odds of benign breast disease in those who consumed the most beta carotene were about half that of those who consumed the least," she said. Girls in the highest intake group ate two to three servings of carotenoid-rich foods weekly, she said.

She did take into account other factors that might affect the risk of benign breast disease, such as alcohol intake, physical activity, family history and body mass index (a measure of body fat using height and weight).

Why might the fruits and vegetables help? It's not known for sure, but Boeke said it may be due partly to their antioxidant properties. Carotenoids absorb harmful substances known as free radicals which can harm cells.

The study looked only at food intake, not supplements, and Boeke said she would not recommend supplements since other research has found some harmful effects with supplement use. Other foods that are rich in carotenoids include yams, melons, spinach and kale.

The period of time between the start of a girl's period and the first birth is a sensitive one for the breasts, as they are very vulnerable to environmental exposures, according to background information in the study.

Again, more support for eating a mainly plant based diet and lowering intake of saturated fat. From MedlinePlus:

High-Fat Diet May Boost Breast Cancer Risk

For more than three decades, experts have debated whether eating a high-fat diet increases breast cancer risk. Now, new research suggests it might boost the chances of three common types of breast cancer.

In a large European study evaluating more than 337,000 women in 10 countries over 11 years, researchers found that women who ate the most saturated fat were about 30 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who ate the least. The study is published April 9 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sieri and her team found that a high intake of total fat and saturated fat was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer subtypes known as estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) and progesterone receptor-positive (PR-positive). High-fat diets also were tied to a raised risk of developing HER2-negative breast cancer, the investigators noted.

The breast cancer subtypes linked with fat intake are common, she said. "The majority of breast cancers in the U.S. and Europe are ER-positive, PR-positive, HER2-negative," she noted.

In the new study, women answered questions about their fat intake and other habits that could affect risk, including smoking, age at first period, pregnancy history, use of hormone therapy and their body mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight). To correct for measurement errors in the diet questionnaire, the researchers interviewed a random sample of 8 percent of the women, asking for a 24-hour dietary recall.

After an average follow up of 11.5 years, just over 10,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.When the cases of cancer were compared with fat intake, "we found an association between exposure to saturated-fat intake and breast cancer," Sieri said.

Women in the group eating the most saturated fat averaged 48 grams a day, compared to 15 grams in the group eating the least. The link can't be explained with certainty, Sieri said, but it's possible that the high-fat intake raises the levels of the body's own estrogen, which can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Until more study is done, Sieri tells women: "In general, it is recommended that the percent of total calories from saturated fat should not exceed 10 percent for women." Gaudet agreed. "If you have a mainly plant-based diet, that is going to help you keep your fat intake low."