Pinpointing the interactions between age-related hormone shifts, dietary choices, and development of cancers is something that researchers at UCLA have been investigating. What scientist Rowan Chlebowski MD, PhD, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, along with his fellow researchers found, was that postmenopausal women who maintained a lower-fat diet tended to have a greater survival rate after a cancer diagnosis.
In this analysis, 48,835 women aged 50-79 who had no history of breast cancer were placed into one of two groups. In the first group, comprised of 19,541 participants, overall dietary fat was reduced to 20% or less of caloric intake, and the nutritionist-led group sessions they attended focused on ways to increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains. In the other group of 29,294, their usual dietary habits were followed.
After approximately eight years, the data compiled on all participants showed that 1,767 of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those in the diet group, overall survival was 82%, where the group without dietary intervention was 78%. More notable than overall survival was the interplay between the dietary interventions and cancers that were found to be hormone dependent. Those with estrogen-receptor-negative tumors had a 36% better survival rate on the low fat diet, while those with estrogen-receptor-negative and progesterone-receptor-negative tumors had a 56% better chance.
Since the development of cancer cannot be completely laid at the feet of the sex hormones, other factors such as insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are also being studied as links. Insulin that is chronically elevated has been shown to increase cancer risk, so measures to control secretion of insulin through diet can help clients to avoid future problems.
This appears to be a promising start to further nutritional study on the development of different types of cancers, and we are now beginning to see the ways that earlier nutritional therapies can prevent the formation of different types of cancers and increase the survival rate post-diagnosis. The link between cancer and metabolic syndrome is currently the focus of several studies, and this meta-analysis shows the significantly higher risk for cancer development in those with impaired metabolic processes.
Unfortunately, these current studies are not yet detailed enough to show the types of fats consumed, the exact contents of the rest of the participants’ diets, or other lifestyle factors that may have contributed to the growth of the disease. Major studies are only beginning to look at detailed dietary changes as therapies for diseases that are becoming more common. The available studies do show, however, that fresh, whole foods that are primarily plant-based have promise in promoting a more healthful life.
While there is a growing trend away from the fear of dietary fat from the previous decades as seen in the Paleo movement and those following a low carbohydrate food plan, there is reason to be cautious in the overall amount of fat that your client chooses to consume. Clients may need further education on the types of fats that are more beneficial, and which ones pose the most health risks.