Colorful Evidence Linking Fruits, Vegetables, and Lower Breast Cancer Risk

2012-12-11 11:30

The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to reduce the risk of many types of cancer. While all plant foods have plenty of health benefits, those that are more colorful have additional nutrients known to decrease the risk of disease. New research finds that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables containing carotenoids can lower the risk of breast cancer in women.

Carotenoids are plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables a deep red, yellow or orange color. The nutrient group contains compounds such as alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids include carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and winter squash. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are also good sources; however, the chlorophyll in the leaves hides the yellow-orange pigment.

Researchers with Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have found that women whose blood carried higher levels of carotenoids were at a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The link is strongest for ER-negative breast cancers, which tend to be more aggressive, have fewer prevention and treatment options, and have a poorer prognosis.

For this study, lead author A. Heather Eliassen and colleagues analyzed data collected from 8 cohort studies including a total of 7,000 women. These studies covered 80% of the currently published data on the correlation between carotenoids and breast cancer. The researchers also re-analyzed the blood samples collected in order to standardize the carotenoid levels reported.


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