Postmenopausal women who drink more than a half a glass of alcohol per day and have low intakes of the B vitamin folate may be at increased risk of breast cancer, a new study from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota suggests. The researchers found that these women were 59% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not drink alcohol and had the highest intake of folate.
For most women, low B-vitamin intakes do not represent a major risk factor for breast cancer. In this study, the exception was among women who consumed little folate, but regularly drank alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked to a slight increase in the risk for breast cancer. And folate may be an important part of the body's capacity to repair the genetic damage that can lead to cancer. Alcohol is broken down in the body into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which has been shown to cause cancer. Without adequate folate, the body may not be able to undo the harm caused by alcohol.
The team of researchers reviewed information on more than 34,000 postmenopausal women and assessed a range of health and lifestyle factors including diet and vitamin intake. After 12 years, nearly 1,600 women had developed breast cancer. Women who drank the most alcohol each day but who consumed the highest level of folate had about the same risk of breast cancer as women who did not drink alcohol and had low intakes of folate. Women who consume alcohol on a weekly basis may want to consider a folate (folic acid) supplement if they believe their blood levels of the vitamin are low. Folate-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, orange juice, dried beans and peas, and fortified cereals.
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