Anti-inflammatory diets could help lower the risk of breast cancer

Women eating more foods that increase inflammation in the body have a 12% increase in their risk of breast cancer relative to women who consumed more anti-inflammatory foods.


Image Credit: Carlota Castro-Espin, Catalan Institute of Oncology and Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute.

New evidence shows a linear association between inflammatory-increasing foods and risk of breast cancer

Inflammation is generally a result of the action of white blood cells and their byproducts protecting the body from bacterial or viral infections. In recent years, mounting evidence suggests both acute and chronic inflammation can impact the health of individuals.

Foods that typically increase inflammation include red and processed meat; high-fat foods such as butter, margarine, and frying fats; and sweets including sugar, honey, and foods high in sugar. Contrastingly, fruits, vegetables, legumes, tea, and coffee all have potentially anti-inflammatory properties. To date, most studies have considered the effects of only single ingredients or food types, with little attention provided for whole diets.

In a new study based on data from the European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), researchers found that moving from a more anti-inflammatory diet toward one that increases inflammation also increased the risk of breast cancer in an almost linear manner by up to 12%.

The scientists collected data from 350 000 women from the EPIC dataset that began in the mid-1990s and lasting up to 15 years. Food frequency or diet history questionnaires were used to assess the diet of participants over a year, accumulating the diet data into an inflammation score based on their intake of 27 different food types ranging in inflammatory effects, which encompasses the main dietary habits of people from the study.

Most studies examining diet and breast cancer risk have focused on single nutrients or foods rather than the whole diet. People consume food not nutrients, thus examining overall dietary patterns, rather than single components of diets can lead to more accurate conclusions when analyzing associations with a health outcome such as breast cancer."

Carlota Castro-Espin,  Catalan Institute of Oncology and Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain

After examining the association between breast cancer and dietary history in participants known to have developed breast cancer or not, researchers showed that pro-inflammatory diets had increased the chances to develop breast cancer by up to 12%.

A nuanced look into variations of associations

Thanks to the extensive dataset of data collected, scientists were able to further investigate the nature of this association and whether other factors also contributed to the increase in risk for breast cancer.

Specifically, the team considered if the age or hormone receptor subtypes could affect the severity of inflammatory effects after specific dietary history. The results showed that the increase in breast cancer risk due to pro-inflammatory diets was more pronounced among premenopausal women and that the association did not vary by breast cancer hormone receptor subtypes, demonstrating that further factors did contribute to extent of risk factors.

Our results add more evidence of the role that dietary patterns play in the prevention of breast cancer. With further confirmation, these findings could help inform dietary recommendations aimed at lowering cancer risk."


In upcoming research, the scientists are presenting their findings during NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE and plan to evaluate the association of the inflammatory potential of diet and other dietary patterns with breast cancer survival using participants in the EPIC study.

Further research and analysis could determine whether the risk of breast cancer follows similar trends in other regions around the globe, particularly in developing countries that may experience rapid changes in diet composition. Additionally, further analysis could also provide insight into whether a mixed diet could boost anti-inflammatory effects to counteract pro-inflammation diets.  

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  


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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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