Lignans Tied to Lower Breast Cancer Rates


Researchers assessed breast cancer cases and lignan consumption in nearly 1300 women.

Women who consume high amounts of lignans may help their chances of avoiding breast cancer, according to a large U.S. study on women with and without the disease.

Lignans are estrogen-like compounds found in numerous plant foods-especially flax-and their hormonal activities have led research to focus on a potential role in warding off breast cancer. Some research suggests lignans may even work synergistically with the breast cancer drug treatment Tamoxifen. Several epidemiological studies have linked high lignan intake to reduced risks of breast cancer.

Lignans can be found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. While orange juice and coffee provide low levels of these compounds, the extent to which we consume these products make them high contributors of lignans to the U.S. population.

Using data obtained from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (Buffalo, NY), researchers recruited 683 women with breast cancer and 611 women without breast cancer to assess stages and signs of breast cancer and assign the women to food frequency questionnaires for estimated lignan consumption.

Compared to women consuming the lowest range of dietary lignans, woman who consumed high amounts were about 40–50% less likely to have any type of breast cancer. Women who ate high amounts of lignans were also associated with reduced risks of invasive breast cancer, and locally advanced breast cancer.

What’s more, women with breast cancer and higher lignan intakes showed tumors with “more favorably prognostic factors,” said the researchers, thus concluding that “lignans may be an important component of a diet with chemoprevention potential.”

Apricots, broccoli, berries, coffee, and red wine were recorded as major sources of dietary lignans for women involved in the study. One limitation was the absence of flaxseed in the food frequency questionnaire. The study has been published in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

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