New Study Finds High Fiber Diet Early in Life Lowers Breast Cancer Risk

by Hank Dart

Though coverage of the Iowa caucuses has eclipsed most other media stories this week, there was still some important health news Monday about a large study finding that a high-fiber diet early in life may lower the risk of later adult breast cancer.

The study, part of the long-running Nurses’ Health Study II, included over 44,000 adult women who were followed for 20 years and provided details on what they ate both in their early adults years and during high school.  Fiber intake in both periods of life were found to have an important impact on breast cancer risk, particularly for cancer that develops before menopause.

Women who ate the most fiber as adolescents (around 29 grams/day) had a 24 percent lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer compared to women who ate the least fiber as adolescents (around 18 grams/day).  For fiber intake in the early adults years, the findings were nearly identical, with those eating the most (around 26 grams/day) having a 23 percent lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer than those eating the least (around 12 grams/day).  And for every 10 grams per day of fiber the women ate in early adulthood or adolescence, the risk of overall breast cancer (premenopausal and postmenopausal combined) dropped by 13 or 14 percent, respectively.

Three pieces of 100 percent whole wheat bread has around 10 grams of fiber.

As we’ve written about previously here in CNiC, and in our new ebook TOGETHER – Every Woman’s Guide to Preventing Breast Cancer, more and more evidence points to youth and the young adults years as key to lifelong breast health. And these current findings build on previous results suggesting that plant-based diets high in fiber can reduce breast cancer risk.

For parents looking to help their daughters make food choices that can help lay a foundation for lifelong breast health, there are some simple steps.  Help them focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, while limiting full-fat dairy and meat — and avoiding alcohol (more). Also key is healthy growth, helping them develop lasting eating and activity habits that help them maintain a healthy weight throughout life (more).  

We know that half of all breast caners can be prevented by steps most women can take.  This new study further confirms that lifestyle choices can have an important impact on breast cancer risk and that a cancer prevention lifestyle can almost never begin too early.

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