For many years, the Block Center has emphasized the nutritional and clinical benefits of eating a diet which is low in total fats (particularly cutting unhealthy fats) yet high in vegetables, whole unprocessed grains, and fruits — a complete food plan based on our continual evaluation of the science. Now, a new and convincing study confirms the actual survival benefits of these recommendations for breast cancer patients.
Important evidence was found in this recent, very large study exploring prevention of breast cancer. It involved 48,835 women, aged 50 to 79, whose daily dietary patterns averaged 32% of total calories from fat. The researchers randomized these women either to a control group that continued their usual eating pattern, or to a low-fat group who were counseled to reduce their fat intake by increasing consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The specific aim was to help the intervention group to decrease their total fat intake to 20% and to incorporate 5 servings of vegetables and fruits as well as 6 servings of whole grains. The women were monitored for approximately the next 20 years to calculate deaths from breast cancer.
During follow-up, 3,374 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed. Significantly, women in the low-fat diet group had a 21% lower risk of death from breast cancer than women in the control group who did not modify their diet. Moreover, they were also 15% less likely to die from any cause.
Of course, it’s not simple to pinpoint precisely which components of the intervention contributed to the results. Interestingly, most women did not succeed in decreasing their fat consumption to 20%; in fact, the average was about 25%. Cutting fat intake was primarily due to reducing dairy and meat eating. Another finding: Women in the low-fat group succeeded in losing approximately 3% of their body weight — while the control group did not — but interestingly, the weight loss did not affect the risk of death.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Rowan Chlebowski, attributes the effectiveness of the intervention to the overall dietary modification, not to any single component. We’d agree with him on this – our consistent position has been that it is a total dietary pattern that can produce true healthful changes. Moreover, since cancer develops as a very complex disease — effected and altered by multiple interconnected factors – thus to potentially limit the growth of a malignant disease requires a comprehensive, multi-targeted intervention. And a healthy diet is a key component of an multi-factored, systematic approach to cancer. So, yes — we’re very enthused to see this strong confirmation of real survival benefits with a healthy low-fat diet.
An essential point: A large experimental study of a complete regimen cannot reveal the fundamental need for tailoring each person’s dietary program as well as the other components in a comprehensive health system. Yet, individualizing is one of our basic principles at the Block Center. Adjustments are always necessary. For instance, a healthful low-fat diet is certainly beneficial for breast cancer patients. But sometimes we appropriately recommend diets higher in healthy fats for patients with certain cancers that can result in significant weight loss, such as pancreatic or lung cancer. Thus, among all of our patients — including those with a breast cancer diagnosis — we carefully modify dietary recommendations to address problems of chronic inflammation or elevated blood sugar levels when found in lab testing.
If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of dietary modifications for your cancer, contact the Block Center to speak with our dietitians and other integrative medical staff. With nearly 40 years of experience in treating and counseling cancer patients, we offer an unparalleled depth of understanding of cancer and focus on individual needs of each patient.