Vegetarian Diet May Protect Against Breast Cancer

Tue May 14, 2002


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet may lower a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, study findings suggest.

In the study, investigators found that vegetarians who had migrated to England from the Indian subcontinent or East Africa and maintained their native diet of vegetables and legumes had a slightly lower risk of breast cancer than their peers who adopted a Western-style diet, regardless of economic and social factors.

The researchers attribute the finding to the vegetarians’ higher intake of vegetables and fiber. In the study, the women who consumed the most vegetables and fiber were the least likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. However, there was no clear association between meat consumption and breast cancer, according to the report in the May issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

“These findings suggest that lifelong vegetarianism may be associated with a reduction in the risk of breast cancer through its association with a higher intake of vegetables and (legumes),” report Dr. Isabel dos Santos Silva and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK.

The researchers reviewed data on 240 women with breast cancer who were matched to 477 healthy “controls.” All women were South Asian, younger than 75 and lived in England. Women answered written questions about their diet over the past 2 or 3 years.

Lifelong vegetarians were slightly less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer irrespective of their income, social situation and use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement, the study found.

Lifelong vegetarians also reported a much higher daily intake of vegetables, lentils and other fiber-rich foods, but fruit intake was similar in both groups. There was no association between a woman’s intake of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates and the risk of breast cancer.

“Although it is not possible to exclude the possibility that meat abstention may also play a role, the findings provide evidence that a lifelong diet rich in vegetables, such as those typically found in South Asian diets, may be protective against this cancer,” the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: International Journal of Cancer 2002;99:238-244.
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