Antioxidants and Cancer

Winter 2017, Living Well Magazine

The antioxidant effect of fruits and vegetables has been shown in research to influence the risk for breast cancer and therefore play an important role in any diet, but particularly for those who seek to follow a diet that supports the prevention of breast cancer.

It is well understood that oxidative stress can contribute to an environment in the body that is conducive to cancer.  The role of antioxidants, therefore, given their role in reducing oxidative stress creates a clear connection. Antioxidants modify the effects of genetic factors related to oxidative stress, thereby impacting breast cancer risk.  As oxidative damage has been reported to be higher in women with breast cancer, compared with other women, the consumption of fruit and vegetables – given their antioxidative role – is an important consideration in the diet.

In research conducted in the US in 1996-7, the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, more than 2000 women (average age 58 years) were monitored for their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The questionnaire focused on known and suspected risk factors for breast cancer, including reproductive, hormonal, medical, and lifestyle histories. (The relationship between breast cancer risk and traditional risk factors, including number of children, late age at first birth, little or no breastfeeding, family history of breast cancer, and increasing income and education, were also noted.)  Diet was assessed for a twelve-month period and the questionnaire included questions related to 13 fruits and fruit juices and 16 vegetables (excluding French fries).

It was found that vegetable, and particularly fruit consumption, contributed to the decreased risk of breast cancer.  In fact, there was an overall 17% reduction in risk of breast cancer risk. Researchers also commented that this influence was specific to fresh produce intake and was not replicated in the study group that took supplements. In fact, associations between antioxidant intake and reduced cancer risk were more pronounced among women who did not use vitamin supplements, indicating the importance of diet, rather than supplement use in breast cancer prevention.

Fruit consumption appears to have had the most significant effect given its high quality antioxidant role. Fruit contains numerous antioxidants and other nutrients, including flavonoids, polyphenols and Vitamin C. The research noted that dietary sources higher in Vitamin C had the most significant influence.

These findings underscore public health recommendations for the consumption of diets rich in fruits as well as vegetables as a means of breast cancer prevention and that foods, rather than vitamins, are likely sources of numerous other risk-reducing properties and are preferred for breast cancer prevention and health promotion.

This article first appeared on the OutsmartCancer.org website. The OutsmartCancer.org website is a new Australian resource for anyone affected by cancer, both directly and indirectly. Housing a comprehensive collection of evidence-based information across Lifestyle Medicine, Conventional Medicine and Complementary Therapies, OutsmartCancer.org addresses the importance for a whole-person approach to cancer treatment, management and prevention.