Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Eating less fat may lower breast-cancer risk, have little impact on colon-cancer, heart-disease risk


Women’s Health Initiative study of nearly 50,000 postmenopausal women across the United States provides first solid data on health effects of a low-fat diet

Adopting a low-fat diet in later life and following such a regimen for nearly a decade does not appear to have a significant impact on reducing the overall risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer or heart disease, according to a Women’s Health Initiative study that involved nearly 50,000 postmenopausal women across the United States. The results of the federally funded dietary modification study will be published in a series of three papers – two with lead authors at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and all three involving co-authors from the Hutchinson Center – in the Feb. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.

The study – the first attempt to test the health impact of a low-fat diet in a randomized, controlled trial, considered the gold standard of clinical and public-health study design – did, however, uncover some encouraging trends, according to Hutchinson Center biostatistician Ross L. Prentice, Ph.D., lead author of the JAMA paper that describes the impact of a low-fat diet on breast-cancer risk, one of the primary goals of the study.

"Women in the low-fat-diet group reduced their overall rate of breast cancer by about 9 percent as compared to the women who didn’t change their eating patterns, but that difference was not statistically significant; it could have been due to chance. So at this point we’re not able to say with certainty that a low-fat diet reduces the risk of breast cancer," said Prentice, member and former director of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division. A 9 percent reduction in breast-cancer incidence means that, out of 10,000 women, 42 in the low-fat-diet group and 45 in the comparison group developed breast cancer each year.

Prentice and colleagues did find, however, that a low-fat diet was associated with a statistically significant 15 percent reduction in estradiol, a form of blood estrogen that increases the risk of breast cancer.

Women in the low-fat group also experienced a 30 percent risk reduction for a certain subtype of breast cancer: tumors that were progesterone-receptor negative. "This finding provides an interesting hypothesis for further development and reinforces that breast cancer is multifaceted; it is not a single disease," Prentice said. PR-negative tumors, while relatively rare, are difficult to treat and associated with a higher mortality rate because they are unresponsive to hormone-blocking drugs such as tamoxifen.

Significant results were seen also among women in the low-fat-diet group who began the study with the highest baseline fat consumption and among women who most strictly adhered to the study’s dietary-fat goals. Women in these categories experienced a 15 percent to 20 percent overall reduction in breast-cancer incidence.

"The bottom line is that changing to a low-fat diet may reduce breast-cancer risk, especially among women who have a relatively high-fat diet to begin with, but we don’t view our data as strong enough at this time to make a broad recommendation that all women initiate a low-fat diet for that purpose," Prentice said. "Additional follow up with these women may yield a stronger, statistically significant conclusion."

With regard to colorectal cancer, the study did not reveal a reduction of cancer incidence overall, but it did show a modest 9 percent decrease in self-reported colon polyps – a precursor to colon cancer – among the women in the low-fat intervention group, according to Shirley A.A. Beresford, Ph.D., lead author of the paper describing the colorectal-cancer findings.

"It is important to remember that cancers often take decades to develop, and we may only be seeing the early stages of the impact of a low-fat diet intervention on the risk of colorectal cancer and other diseases," said Beresford, a member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine. "The reduction in polyps suggests a possible reduction in colorectal-cancer risk could emerge over a longer time period." No significant reduction in heart disease emerged among the women in the low-fat intervention group, who achieved only a 2.4 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol, and a 3 percent lower rate of heart disease.

The study did, however, find trends toward reduction in heart-disease risk among the subset of women in the low-fat-diet group who made the greatest reduction in consumption of saturated fat and trans fat, both of which can raise the risk of heart disease because they increase production of LDL cholesterol.

"For heart-disease prevention, the data suggests that a greater emphasis on reduction of saturated and trans fats will be needed to have a major difference," Prentice said. Barbara V. Howard, Ph.D., president of MedStar Research Institute/Howard University in Washington, D.C., was the lead author of the heart-disease paper.

Nationally, 48,835 women between the ages of 50 and 79 participated in the study, including more than 1,000 from the Seattle area. Forty percent of the women were randomly assigned to follow a low-fat diet while 60 percent of the women served as a comparison group and thus maintained their usual eating habits. The women in both groups were followed for eight years.

Those in the low-fat group aimed to consume no more than 20 percent of daily calories from fat, and to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits and six or more servings of grains daily. To help reach this goal, the women met regularly in small groups with nutritionists to learn how to modify their behaviors to achieve and maintain this dietary change.

At the beginning of the study, the women’s baseline fat consumption was between 35 percent and 38 percent of their daily calories. A year into the study, the women in the low-fat group got 24 percent of their energy from fat – 11 percent fewer calories from fat as compared to the women who ate their usual diet – and they maintained much of that difference throughout the study.

"This was a long-term, demanding study for the women in the low-fat group, and they did a marvelous job of trying to adhere to stringent dietary goals," Prentice said. "In spite of their efforts, we achieved only 70 percent of the difference in dietary habits between the two groups that we needed to get. If we’d achieved an even higher adherence rate, I believe the study’s results would have been more dramatic," Prentice said.

"While the study didn’t give us the results that some people were hoping for, it suggests that we’re on the right track," he said. "Women can be confident that cutting back on fat and following the recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans certainly won’t hurt when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing chronic disease."

Importantly, the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet did not increase the risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes.

Although the intervention phase of the study is complete, five years of data collection and follow-up are planned as well. "Additional follow-up with these women may yield a stronger, statistically significant conclusion," Prentice said. "The low-fat story is partly in, but it is not over yet."

Kristen Lidke Woodward | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg

nachricht New potential cancer treatment using microwaves to target deep tumors
12.10.2016 | University of Texas at Arlington

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>