A diet rich in orange juice, leafy greens, fortified breakfast cereals and other foods high in folate may help lower a woman's risk of breast cancer, particularly if she faces an elevated risk from regular alcohol consumption, new study findings suggest.
Among women who consumed about one alcoholic drink a day or more (at least 15 grams of alcohol), those who had the highest levels of folate in their blood were 89% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who had the lowest levels of the B vitamin. For women who drank less alcohol, those with the highest levels of folate appeared to be about 28% less likely to develop the disease than those with the lowest levels.
Previous studies have linked regular alcohol consumption to an increased risk of breast cancer. Alcohol is known to interfere with the body's absorption of folate and to increase the excretion of the vitamin by the kidneys.
Because folate is involved in the healthy function of DNA, low levels of the vitamin may promote breast cancer by causing damage to genetic material, say the researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. The new findings are in line with previous reports that folate may help counter alcohol's effect on breast cancer.
The study involved women enrolled in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study. Researchers took blood samples from 32,826 of the study participants between 1989 and 1990. The investigators then compared levels of folate and other B vitamins in the blood of 712 women who had developed breast cancer by 1996 to those of another 712 women who did not have breast cancer. Some women in the study took vitamins containing folic acid, the synthetic form of folate.
Both women and men are advised to get 400 micrograms of folate a day. Pregnant women should consume 600 micrograms daily. In addition to oranges and leafy greens such as spinach, other good sources of folate include dry beans, lentils, peas, asparagus, cantaloupe and papaya. Many breakfast cereals and breads are now fortified with folic acid.
The study also found that vitamins B6 and B12 appeared to help lower the risk of breast cancer in women who consumed less than 15 grams of alcohol a day, but not in women who drank more.
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