Eating more fibre in teen years may lower future breast cancer risk

February 2, 2016 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Eating more fibre in teen years may lower future breast cancer risk

According to a new large U.S. study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, eating a high fibre diet when you’re young could pay off decades later with a lowered risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers analyzed data on more than 44,000 women participating in a long-term study and found those who ate the most fibre during high school and early adulthood were about 20 percent less likely to develop breast cancer by middle age than those who ate the least fibre in their youth.

Most of the studies that evaluated the relationship between fibre consumed in midlife or later and breast cancer risk have not found any significant association. It’s possible, then, that a high-fibre diet in early life could be important in terms of breast cancer prevention.

The researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which included more than 90,000 premenopausal women who completed a dietary questionnaire in 1991, when they were 27 to 44 years old. Eight years later, 44,263 of them also completed a questionnaire about their diets when they were in high school.

The study team divided women into five groups, from highest to lowest intake of dietary fibre when they were teens and also in 1991, when they were young women.

Both soluble and insoluble fibre protective

Those who ate the most dietary fibre (26 grams per day) when they were young were 16 percent to 20 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who got the least fibre (12 grams per day).

This was true for soluble fibre in foods like oat bran, which attracts water and slows digestion, and insoluble fibre in foods like wheat bran, which adds bulk to stool and helps food pass more quickly through the digestive tract.

Foods high in fibre contain many other nutrients, which may have played a role, but most known breast cancer risk factors as well as the overall quality of the women’s diets were taken into account. And the association with fibre remained.

Most North American women need to double their fibre intake

While the average North American today eats 10 to 15 grams of fibre daily, most women should be getting 25 to 30 grams daily.

The findings show that each additional 10 grams per day increase in fibre intake during adolescence reduces risk of breast cancer by 14 percent.  Getting the recommended 25 to 30 grams per day would decrease breast cancer risk by 30 percent, the researchers noted.

Fibre intake influences circulating hormone levels, and hormone levels during the adolescent period of breast development may impact later breast cancer risk, she said.

Women who get more fibre as young adults also tend to carry healthy eating habits into later life.

The researchers recommend that parents of young daughters provide plenty of high-fibre foods at home and make sure their children eat enough fruits and vegetables, whole-grain pasta, dark bread or brown rice, legumes and nuts in their diet,” the researchers said

Source: Pediatrics, online February 1, 2016.

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