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Study Suggests Mothers Diet May Help Prevent Daughters Breast Cancer


When a woman is pregnant, she is truly eating for two, but not in the way you might think. The foods eaten during pregnancy not only support the development of the growing fetus, but may also offer health benefits to the child later in life. North Dakota State University researchers are presenting data at the Era of Hope scientific conference that links certain nutrients in a woman’s diet during pregnancy to a reduced risk of breast cancer in her female offspring.

Lipotropic Nutrients May Prevent Breast Cancer in High Risk Populations

Dr. Chung S. Park, a professor of animal sciences at NDSU, studied 45 rats that were randomized into two groups. One group served as a control group receiving a standard diet. The other group was fed a methyl-supplemented diet, including the lipotropic nutrients methionine, choline, folate, and vitamin B12. The researchers then studied the pups that were born to the rats by using a chemical to induce breast cancer and following for tumor development.

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The animals that were born to the mothers receiving the methyl-supplemented diet had decreased tumor incidence and growth than the control group. They also had fewer tumors and fewer tumors that multiplied.

According to Dr. Park, the nutrients supplemented in the rats’ diets may boost methyl metabolism. In 2003, a separate group of researchers from the United States Military Cancer Institute suggested that a methyl-deficient diet is more likely to be associated with breast cancer in certain populations.

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Lipotropic nutrients help the liver process fat in the body. Methionine is an essential amino acid required by the body for normal metabolism and growth. Meat, fish and dairy products are all excellent sources of the nutrient. However, too much methionine may be contraindicated as excess is converted to homocysteine, which increases the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.

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Choline is another essential nutrient which humans can synthesize in small amounts. Food sources of choline include beef and beef liver, wheat germ, egg, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and certain seafoods.

Folate and B12 are among the B vitamins essential for human health. Natural sources of folate include romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, and broccoli. In the United States, many grain foods are fortified with folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) as the nutrient provides protection during pregnancy from infants developing neural tube defects. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include most animal foods such as beef, seafood and chicken. Some nutritional yeast products contain a vegetarian form of B12.

“The conclusions of this study suggest that we may be able to prevent the development of breast cancer in daughters of women at risk for breast cancer by supplementing the mother's diet during pregnancy,” said Dr. Park. “We look forward to exploring this study further to strengthen the implications of these initial findings.”

“In Utero Exposure to Dietary Methyl Nutrients and Breast Cancer Risk in Offspring,” presented at Era of Hope in Orlando Florida, August 2-5, hosted by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP).
Methyl-group dietary intake and risk of breast cancer among African-American women: a case-control study by methylation status of the estrogen receptor alpha genes. Zhu K, Davidson NE, et al. Cancer Causes Control. 2003 Nov;14(9):827-36.