Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Risk of Breast Cancer Linked to Dietary Choices

A Chinese study suggests cancer risk is directly associated with the dietary inflammation index of the food one consumes. Foods that are anti-inflammatory seem to lower the risk of breast cancer; perhaps, preventive measure for cancer may be at the grocery store rather than the pharmacy.


The body’s immune system flings into action when foreign entities enter the body. It is a natural mechanism that safeguards health. Anything foreign, including microbes, plant pollen, or chemicals can trigger an inflammatory response. The specialised cells of the immune systems deal with the invaders by releasing certain chemicals in the blood. This reaction usually subsides within a reasonable timeframe. However, sometimes the attack response persists, leading to chronic inflammation.

Among the many factors contributing to a sustained inflammatory response, several experimental studies have confirmed that certain components of foods and beverages can have exacerbate inflammatory effects. As such, foods are classified as being anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory, depending on the response they trigger in the body. Foods that inflame include refined carbohydrates (bread whites and pastries), fried food, soda, red meat, and margarine. Foods that reduce inflammation are green vegetables (spinach and kale), tomato, olive oil, and nuts, among many others. The Dietary Inflammation Index (DII) was devised to quantify the inflammatory response of dietary items according to the biochemical response they elicit.

Dietary choices have a direct effect on the development of chronic conditions like cardiovascular diseases and metabolic syndrome (1). The consumption of the pro-inflammatory foods has been implicated in cancer development as well. There is a complex relationship between cancer, immunity and inflammation. In some instances, chronic inflammation is thought to trigger carcinogenesis. However, a direct link between food consumption and cancer is missing. To bridge this gap in knowledge, Dr. Huang and colleagues performed a case control study in the Guangzhou district of China and published their findings in the British Journal of Nutrition (2). 867 eligible women diagnosed with symptoms of breast cancer completed a face-to-face interview and a structured questionnaire to evaluate the dietary habits and any potentially confounding factors. Information on socio-demographic factors, body weight and height, lifestyle factors, menopausal status and reproductive history were also recorded.

A positive association was found between a pro-inflammatory diet and the risk of breast cancer in the Chinese women. The DII scores ranged between -5.87 (most anti-inflammatory) to +5.71 (most pro-inflammatory). The higher DII scores were linked with higher breast cancer risk. When body weight was taken into consideration, there was still a positive correlation except in the under-weight women. Additionally, the inflammatory effect of diet was not dependent on the menopausal status. The main limitation of the study was the lack of diversity in the study population; therefore, the findings cannot be generalized to the global population. Furthermore, there was lack of laboratory corroboration, as the inflammation parameters in the blood were not evaluated. Overall, the take home message of this preliminary work is to not underestimate the influence of nutrition on the risk of breast cancer.


Written By: Akshita Wason, B. Tech, PhD

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