Lower calorie intake may decrease breast cancer risk

March 17, 2004 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Lower calorie intake may decrease breast cancer risk

Results of a study of women who suffered from anorexia indicate that caloric restriction at an early age protects against breast cancer. These observations suggest an important role for caloric intake in the etiology of breast cancer.

Among some 7300 Swedish women hospitalized for anorexia nervosa before their 40th birthday between 1965 and 1998, researchers noted a significant 53% decrease in breast cancer cases compared with what would be expected in the general Swedish population of women. The analysis showed that breast cancer rates among the anorexic women were 23% lower for those who had never had children, and 76% lower among those who were mothers.

Previous research has shown that restricting caloric intake in animals is one of the most effective ways to reduce cancer risk. It's been unclear, however, whether the same is true in humans.

The results of the present study suggest that "maybe we should be looking at the role of diet in puberty or adolescence and breast cancer," the researchers from Harvard University said. They will next explore the underlying mechanisms of the apparent protective effect of caloric restriction on breast cancer.

There are two main hypotheses: one, that caloric restriction influences breast cell growth and development, and, two, that lower levels of estrogen and growth factors induced by caloric restriction are involved.

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