High-carb diet tied to breast cancer risk

Comment on this story

Older women who eat a lot of starchy and sweet carbohydrates may be at increased risk of a less common but deadlier form of breast cancer, according to a European study.

The findings from a study of nearly 335,000 European women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, do not prove that sweets, French fries and white bread contribute to breast cancer - but they do hint at a potential factor in a little understood form of breast cancer.

Specifically, the study found a link between high “glycemic load” and breast cancers that lack receptors for the female sex hormone oestrogen, so-called “ER-negative” breast cancers.

A high glycemic load essentially means a diet heavy in foods that cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, such as processed foods made from white flour, potatoes and sweets.

The study, conducted by Isabelle Romieu of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, looked at nearly 335,000 women who took part in a long-running European study on nutrition factors and cancer risk.

Of these, 11,576 developed breast cancer over a dozen years. Overall, there was no link between breast cancer risk and glycemic load, as estimated from diet questionnaires the women completed at the study's start.

But the picture changed when the researchers focused on postmenopausal women with ER-negative cancer. Among women in the top 20 percent for glycemic load, there were 158 cases of breast cancer, versus 11 cases in the bottom 20 percent - a 36 percent higher risk.

ER-negative tumours account for about one-quarter of breast cancers. They typically have a poorer prognosis than ER-positive cancers because they tend to grow faster and are not sensitive to hormone-based therapies.

Christina Clarke, a research scientist at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California in Fremont, and a consulting assistant professor at Stanford University, said the results are interesting because so little is known about what cases ER-negative breast cancers. Most breast tumours have their growth fuelled by estrogen.

“This study gives us a really important clue for future research,” said Clarke, who was not involved in the study.

Diets with a high glycemic load are associated with a bigger secretion of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. High insulin levels, in turn, have been linked to certain cancers, possibly because insulin helps tumours grow.

The current findings hint at a role for “insulin pathways” in ER-negative breast cancer, Clarke said, adding that more research definitely needs to be done.

She noted that while there is no single factor in any woman's risk of breast cancer, the findings offer more incentive to eat a balanced diet that limits refined carbohydrates in favour of healthier fare - like lean protein, vegetables, “good” fats and high-fibre grains.

“Really, you want to avoid these (high glycemic load) diets anyway,” she added. - Reuters

Get our free Lifestyle newsletter - subscribe here...

sign up

Comment Guidelines

  1. Please read our comment guidelines.
  2. Login and register, if you haven’ t already.
  3. Write your comment in the block below and click (Post As)
  4. Has a comment offended you? Hover your mouse over the comment and wait until a small triangle appears on the right-hand side. Click triangle () and select "Flag as inappropriate". Our moderators will take action if need be.

  5. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles. You are only required to verify your email address once to have full access to commenting on articles. For more information please read our comment guidelines