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Women’s Health: The Link Between Starch Intake and Breast Cancer

By:  Brian Flora

There is growing evidence that nutrition can play an important role in cancer prevention. Nutrition is strongly associated with a person’s risk for the occurrence or reoccurrence of cancer. Researchers have now linked starch intake with breast cancer recurrence, according to results presented at the December 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Researchers found that women who increase starch intake face an increased risk that their breast cancer will return.

Women’s Healthy Eating and Living

Researchers followed 3,088 breast cancer survivors who participated in the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living—or WHEL—for seven years. Of these participants, scientists followed 2,651 women in the Dietary Intervention Trial. The study relied on dietary recall, in which researchers telephoned participants and asked for a report of everything they had eaten in the past 24 hours. This information was gathered when participants entered the program, and one year later.

Results from the study show a strong association between increased carbohydrate intake – more specifically, starch intake – and a higher risk for recurrence of breast cancer. Changes in starch intake accounted for about 48 percent of these changes in carbohydrate intake.

The Dietary Intervention Trial didn’t focus specifically on carbohydrates, although it did look at fruits and vegetables, fiber and fat intake in general. At the beginning of the study, participants ate an average of 233 grams of carbohydrates each day. The researchers found that women whose cancer came back in the previous year had eaten an average of 2.3 more grams of carbohydrates daily. Women whose cancer did not come back had reduced their carbohydrate intake by an average of 2.7 grams.

Specifically, women who had reduced starch intake the most had a recurrence rated of only 9.7 percent, as compared to women who increased their starch intake and suffer a recurrence rate of 14.2 percent. This increased risk seemed limited to women with low-grade tumors.

Further Evidence

Other studies have also revealed a strong association between nutrition and the recurrence of breast cancer. One such study performed in Chinashowed breast cancer survivors who eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables have a lower recurrence rates than women whose diets did not include large amounts of these vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables, including greens and cabbage, contain phytochemicals known as isothiocyanates and indoles, which help protect against certain types of cancer. This is dependent on the type and amount of cruciferous vegetable consumed.

The authors of the study pointed out that the Chinese eat cruciferous vegetables like turnips and bok choy, while Americans eat mostly broccoli and Brussels sprouts; further research will determine whether all cruciferous vegetables provide equal protection from recurrence of breast cancer.


What It All Means

While the association between food and cancer in general is well-established, these studies provide insight into the relationship between food and the recurrence of breast cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research confirms that a diet rich in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans helps lower the risk for many types of cancer. Researchers are investigating the roles specific nutrients play in reducing cancer risks but evidence suggests a healthy diet provides the best protection.

While scientists continue to discover the link between starch intake and cancer prevention, health professionals recommend eating fruits and vegetables like apples, cranberries, blueberries, broccoli and squash, along with green tea, grapes and tomatoes. More research will examine the link between starch intake and the recurrence of breast cancer. For now, consumers are encouraged to fill at least 2/3 of their plates with vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to replace starchy foods.

With this latest study, the effects of a healthy lifestyle versus those of an unhealthy lifestyle are highlighted. If you or anyone you know has a family history of breast cancer, or has undergone breast cancer treatment themselves, take a few minutes to think about changes that you can make to decrease your chances of becoming another statistic.

Women’s Health: The Link between Starch Intake and Breast Cancer

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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