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Walnuts Reduce Breast Cancer Risk in Mice


One way to help reduce the risk of breast cancer may involve going a little nuts—walnuts, that is. A new study from Marshall University researchers found the risk of breast cancer declined significantly in mice that were fed walnuts as part of their regular diet.

Two ounces of walnuts daily may help reduce risk

Scores of studies have looked at the effect of diet on breast cancer risk. Much research has indicated that a high-fat diet can contribute to breast cancer risk, including recurrence of breast cancer. Other studies have explored the benefits of vegetables and antioxidants as ways to help prevent the disease.

Now, enter walnuts, which are a good source of healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids) and the antioxidant vitamin E. According to Elaine Hardman, PhD, of Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, the equivalent of two ounces of walnuts per day in humans was all that was necessary to cut the risk of breast cancer in mice.

The mice in the study were genetically programmed to develop breast cancer at a high rate, according to Hardman, and they were all evaluated throughout their entire lifespan: through the mother from conception and then through eating the walnuts themselves.

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Mice that consumed walnuts developed breast cancer at less than 50 percent the rate of mice that ate a typical diet. The walnut-consuming mice also had tumors that were significantly smaller in number and size. Hardman pointed out that “we were able to reduce the risk for cancer even in the presence of a preexisting genetic mutation.”

Hardman and her team used genetic analysis to determine that the walnuts altered the activity of numerous genes that are associated with breast cancer in both mice and humans. They also found that increases in omega-3 fatty acids did not completely account for the reduction in risk and that growth of the tumors declined with an increase in dietary vitamin E.

According to Hardman, their findings indicate that “food is important medicine in our diet,” and that "increased consumption of walnut could be part of a healthy diet and reduce risk for cancer in future generations.” All in all, snacking on walnuts to help reduce the risk of breast cancer could be a safe bet.

Marshall University news release

Picture credit: USDA/ARS