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Folic Acid, Vitamin B6 May
Protect Against Breast Cancer

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have found that a diet high in folic acid and vitamin B6 can lower a woman's risk of breast cancer.

The results suggest that women who want to protect themselves against breast cancer should have a diet high in these nutrients. Women who drink should pay particular attention to their folic acid intake, the researchers said, because folic acid appears to protect them against the increased risk of breast cancer caused by alcohol.

The report appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Vol. 95, No. 5: 373-380).

Folic acid and vitamin B6 are important parts of our diets. They help make DNA, which is the basic chemical in genes. Folic acid is found mainly in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits and juices, fortified breakfast cereals, and of course, vitamin supplements. Vitamin B6 is found in meat, poultry and fish, as well as in fortified cereals, potatoes, bananas and some beans.

Several studies in the past have linked a diet high in folic acid to a lower risk of breast cancer. Because alcohol interferes with the body's ability to use folic acid, the extra folic acid seems to be most protective in women who drink.

But most of these earlier studies were marred by the fact that they questioned the women about their diets after they got their cancer, and memory can be faulty. Harvard researchers Shumin Zhang, MD, and Walter Willet, MD, and colleagues took a different approach by evaluating women in the Nurses' Health Study prospectively -- before they developed any problems.

Study Looks At Lifestyle And Breast Cancer

The Nurses' Health Study began in 1976, enrolling 121,700 female registered nurses. The study was intended to look at lifestyle risk factors for many different diseases in women. At the beginning of the study and periodically afterwards, the nurses were asked about their diets, lifestyle, and whether they took vitamins. They were also surveyed for any change in their health; more than 32,000 of the nurses also gave blood samples from time to time.

The researchers compared 712 of these nurses who developed breast cancer with 712 nurses who didn't get breast cancer. They found that the nurses with breast cancer had a diet that contained less folic acid and they had lower levels of folic acid in their blood.

The researchers also found that although high folic acid intake reduced breast cancer risk in all the women, it was most protective in those who drank more than one drink a day. It reduced the higher risk caused by their drinking.

The researchers also examined the intake of two vitamins, B6, and B12, because they, too, are involved with making DNA. Although B12 was not protective, B6 was. Women with a higher intake of B6 and higher blood levels of this vitamin had a lower rate of breast cancer. And the B6 was as beneficial in non-drinkers as well as drinkers.

However, experts said it's too soon to make new recommendations about nutrient intake for prevention of breast cancer.

The data so far shows only an association between nutrition and cancer risk, not a cause and effect, said Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecological programs for the American Cancer Society. Furthermore, she said, other recent studies have not found the same association between folate and breast cancer as this one.

"We don't have good answers yet," Saslow said. "But we know that following ACS guidelines for nutrition and physical activity is good for your health overall - for different types of cancer and other chronic disease.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among American women. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 211,000 women will get breast cancer this year, and nearly 40,000 will die from it.

Mammograms, breast self-examinations and examinations by a doctor can help detect breast cancer early. The ACS recommends yearly mammograms and breast examinations by a doctor for all women over age 40. Women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a doctor do a breast exam every three years, and all women over 20 should do monthly self-examinations.

Reference Source 102


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