Adolescent girls who follow a relatively low-fat diet starting in puberty have lower blood levels of hormones that are linked to breast cancer in adulthood, new U.S. based research reveals.
However, whether these findings translate into a lower risk of breast cancer later in life is not clear.
Although we do not know if lower hormone levels during adolescence will influence breast cancer risk in adulthood, adolescence is a time of rapid growth and maturation of the breasts.
Therefore, lower hormone levels might slow down the rate of cell division, which can lead to cancer-causing mutations.
Elevated body fat is another risk factor for premenopausal breast cancer, although it is not clear how extra pounds may contribute to the risk.
To investigate the relationship between fat intake during puberty and blood levels of hormones associated with breast cancer, the research team studied 286 girls aged 8 to 10 years. About half of the group attended individual and group nutrition counseling sessions on how to follow a low-fat diet, in which 28% of calories came from fat and no more than 8% from saturated fat.
General nutrition guidelines suggest that healthy adults consume no more than 30% of total calories from fat, of which a maximum of 10% is from saturated fat. The other half of the group received written material from the American Heart Association and did not take part in nutrition counseling.
After five years, girls in the counseling group had lower levels of specific forms of estrogen linked to breast cancer. For instance, estradiol levels were about 30% lower and estrone levels were about 20% lower, the study found.
Levels of progesterone, which may also increase the risk of breast cancer, were also lower, the study found.
Finally, these girls reported eating fewer calories, less fat and saturated fat, and more fiber, compared with girls in the other group. These dietary interventions may also lower breast cancer risk, although study findings have been mixed.
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