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Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting American women. On average, 13% of American women will develop this invasive condition.

Many genetic and environmental factors can increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing breast cancer.

One such factor is the amount of fat you consume. 

Dietary Fats

Dietary fat is a macronutrient needed in the right amounts to keep the body healthy and nourished. 

The fat you consume is usually stored as a reserve in the adipose tissue and used as an energy source when you consume fewer calories than what the body needs. 

Fat also helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E, and K.

Fats play a role in protecting your internal organs, keeping you warm, and controlling the action of different hormones.

Dietary Fats and Breast Cancer

High levels of dietary fat may increase the sex hormones in a woman’s body (estrogen and progesterone). Some researchers assume that this may be why fats increase the risk of breast cancer, especially hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. 

High dietary fat intake also increases the risk of obesity. Obesity, in turn, increases postmenopausal ER-positive breast cancer risk by increasing estrogen production in the body. 

A 2003 study assessed the risk of breast cancer in 90,655 premenopausal women between the ages of 26 and 46. This 8-year study identified 714 cases of breast cancer during the follow-up. 

According to the study, women who had consumed high animal dietary fats had a slightly increased risk for breast cancer. The study identified that red meat, animal fat, and dairy products specifically increased cancer risk. 

Does The Type of Fat Matter? 

There are four major types of dietary fatty acids.

Saturated and trans fat are considered unhealthy fats as they increase blood cholesterol levels and lead to heart conditions. 

Unsaturated fats are healthy as they bring down cholesterol levels and also boost heart health.

When it comes to breast cancer risk, the type of fat you consume definitely matters. Many studies relate saturated fats and trans fats to an increased risk for breast cancer. Conversely, some unsaturated fats seem to be protective against breast cancer.

SFAs and Breast Cancer Risk

A 2003 meta analysis studies the risk of breast cancer in people who consumed excess dietary fats. 

According to the meta-analysis, short-term and long-term studies found that people who consumed excessive saturated fats and meat had a 13% higher risk of breast cancer. 

Another combined analysis study that included data from 12 case-controlled studies found a positive relationship between saturated fat intake and breast cancer.

This study also reports that with changes in the diet, up to 24% of postmenopausal women and 16% of premenopausal women in North America decreased their risk of developing breast cancer. 

TFAs and Breast Cancer Risk

Industrial Trans Fatty Acids (ITFAs) are trans fats produced in industries and added to various dairy products, snacks, and pastries. Ruminant Trans Fatty Acids (RTFAs) are made in the bodies of cows, goats, sheep, and other animals as a result of bacterial action. RTFAs are present in most animal fats, and consuming these fats increase RTFA levels in the body.

The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) found a positive relationship between ITFA and RTFA consumption and the risk of breast cancer in 318,607 women. 

PUFAs and Breast Cancer Risk

A 2005 study analyzed the effects of unsaturated fatty acids on breast cancer risk. The study reported that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid, brought down the risk of breast cancer. 

In contrast, omega-6 fatty acids, a different kind of polyunsaturated fatty acid, increased the risk of breast cancer.

A 2015 article observed the interaction of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids in the development of breast cancer in 1463 breast cancer patients and 1500 controls. The study suggests that American women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by increasing their omega-3 fatty acid intake (omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties) and decreasing the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (Omega-6 induces inflammation). 

MUFAs and Breast Cancer Risk

When it comes to MUFAs, the type of food plays a role in increasing or decreasing cancer risk. 

A 1993 meta-analysis study reported that MUFAs also increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. 

Another study reported that oleic acid and palmitic acid, types of monounsaturated fatty acids, increased the risk of breast cancer in women. 

Olive oil, which is rich in MUFA, seems to protect against cancers, though. People who chose olive oil over other lipids like butter had high levels of protection against all cancers, including breast cancer. 

How Genes Influence Breast Cancer Risk On High-Fat Intake?

The DOCK1 Gene

The DOCK1 gene (Dedicator of cytokinesis gene) helps create the DOCK180 protein that plays a role in signaling between cells. 

rs113847670 is a  single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP in the DOCK1 gene. It is associated with breast cancer risk. The T allele of this SNP results in 5 times higher risk of developing breast cancer on excess intake of saturated fats.

AlleleImplications
T5-times higher risk of developing breast cancer on excess intake of saturated fats
CNormal risk of breast cancer on excess intake of saturated fats

Dietary Fixes To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Weight Loss

Obesity is one of the factors that can contribute to increased breast cancer risk. Excess intake of fats can lead to weight gain and obesity too. As a result, the combination of obesity and excess fat intake can aggravate breast cancer risk. 

This is true, especially in post-menopausal women. Such women can bring down their risk of breast cancer by limiting saturated and trans-fat intake. 

Changes in Dietary Pattern

Other than cutting back on fats, the following dietary changes can help lower breast cancer risk: 

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing will tell how harmful fat consumption is for your body. If you are at higher risk of developing breast cancer because of fat intake, talk to a nutritionist to control the risk. 

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Summary

  1. Dietary fat is a macronutrient needed for the healthy functioning of the body. 
  2. Excess amounts of dietary fats can lead to various health problems in human beings, including an increased risk of breast cancer in women. 
  3. Dietary fatty acids are of 4 types - Saturated fatty acids (SFAs), Trans fatty acids (TFAs), Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), and Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). 
  4. SFAs and TFAs are considered unhealthy fats, and excess consumption is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acid, a type of PUFA, may protect against breast cancer. Few MUFA foods increase breast cancer risk, while few others like olive oil are protective against the disease.
  6. Certain changes in DOCK1, a gene that produces the DOCK180 protein, can increase the risk of breast cancer on saturated fat intake. 
  7. Losing weight, making healthy dietary changes, and opting for genetic testing can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer because of dietary fat intake. 
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