Did you have great eating habits as a teenager? For most of us, the answer to that is a resounding “no.” Even if your parents provided you with a foundation of nutritious meals, chances are good that you didn’t follow the same rules once you were out of the house. Fast food lunches with friends, stopping for donuts or ice cream after school, late night pizza while you were hanging out, and on and on. When you’re young, you don’t give much of a thought to all these empty calories unless you are overweight. But unfortunately, it might come back to haunt you now that you’re a little older. According to new research, the types of foods we ate as a teenager and young adult may eventually affect our risk for breast cancer—at least for women.
The study, which was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that consuming a diet laden with foods that promote inflammation may raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer prior to menopause.1 Harris, Holly R.; et al. “An Adolescent and Early Adulthood Dietary Pattern Associated with Inflammation and the Incidence of Breast Cancer.” Cancer Research. March 2017. Accessed 5 March 2017. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/77/5/1179. The researchers considered a diet to be inflammatory if it consisted of a low intake of vegetables and a high intake of refined sugars and carbohydrates, red meats, processed meats, sugar sweetened or diet sodas, and margarine. These foods were selected because they have all been linked to an increase in systemic inflammation. 2 Giugliano, D.; et al. “The effects of diet on inflammation: emphasis on the metabolic syndrome.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 15 August 2006. Accessed 6 March 2017. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904534.
The women were questioned about their current diets as adults as well as what they remembered eating as teens. Then they were tracked for 22 years during which time they updated their consumption information every four years, and their medical records were accessed. The subjects’ diets were assigned an inflammatory score based on the foods they typically ate, and grouped into five categories ranging from most inflammatory diets to least.
Based on their teenage dietary habits, those in the most inflammatory diet group were found to have a 35 percent greater risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer than their peers in the lowest scoring group. When the parameters changed to instead consider their adult diets, the women in the highest scoring group were even worse off with a 41 percent greater chance of developing breast cancer than those with the lowest scores.
While we need to keep in mind that the study was only designed to show an association and not prove cause and effect, the results do strongly suggest that a diet full of inflammatory foods may contribute to breast cancer in younger women. In addition, relying on the memories of people to report what they ate a decade before is hardly ideal, but the foods being investigated are general enough that most of us would have a good sense of whether or not we consumed them frequently.
So what does one do if you know you didn’t exactly have the best eating habits in your teens and 20s? Don’t think that you’re certainly going to be heading for a diagnosis of breast cancer. After all, there are a lot of factors that influence a disease like this, including genetics, weight, and alcohol use. By the same token, you might have eaten few inflammatory foods in your youth and still end up developing breast cancer. It is relatively uncommon in women under the age of 40, but the risk rises significantly after that, and 12.4 percent of American women are expected to develop breast cancer at some point in their lives according to the National Cancer Institute.
Therefore, you should do everything you can now to protect your breast health as well as your overall health. That means cutting back on many of the inflammatory foods noted above or removing them from your diet altogether. It’s never too late to start eating a healthier diet. Remember, it was the adults in the study on an inflammatory diet who had the highest incidence of breast cancer. So base your daily meals around a combination of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and beneficial fats.
Lose the excess weight that puts you at greater risk for not only breast cancer but also diabetes, heart disease, and a range of other conditions. Commit to exercising every day. Physical activity has been shown in studies to reduce breast cancer risk. And don’t forget to go for an annual well-woman checkup and do self-checks of your breasts every month. Catching a problem early can often make a world of difference.
|↑1||Harris, Holly R.; et al. “An Adolescent and Early Adulthood Dietary Pattern Associated with Inflammation and the Incidence of Breast Cancer.” Cancer Research. March 2017. Accessed 5 March 2017. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/77/5/1179.|
|↑2|| Giugliano, D.; et al. “The effects of diet on inflammation: emphasis on the metabolic syndrome.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 15 August 2006. Accessed 6 March 2017. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904534.|