NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Eating plenty of nuts can cut the risk of dying from breast cancer in half, according to new research. A study of around 3,500 patients finds that consuming nuts reduces the recurrence of the disease by up to 52 percent. Overall, mortality rates fell by nearly a third among regular consumers of the snack food.
Study authors from Vanderbilt University note that the findings applied to all types of nuts including almonds, pistachios, pecans, and brazil nuts.
“Our study is among the first to show nut consumption was associated with up to 50% reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence, spread, or mortality,” the study’s corresponding author Professor Xiao-Ou Shu, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt, says in a statement to SWNS.
The beneficial impact of consuming nuts was also independent of other dietary habits. Nuts are rich in nutrients including unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other healthy plant compounds.
“Previous lab experiments have identified several potential molecular mechanisms indicative of growth inhibitory effects of nut components on human breast cancer cells which may prevent recurrence,” Prof. Shu tells SWNS.
Scientists believe other impacts, such as lowering cholesterol levels, inhibiting oxidation, and regulating cell dysfunction, may also be behind the phenomenon.
A few ounces a week can protect against cancer
The findings come from an examination of participants in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study. The participants completed a food survey five years after their diagnosis, with researchers tracking the group for an average of eight years after. Nut intake was relatively low at just over half an ounce a week on average. That equals about 20 peanuts, 14 almonds, or 16 walnut halves.
Those who ate more than this amount were much less likely to have a reoccurrence of cancer or die. Doctors recommend people consume about two ounces per week as part of a balanced diet.
“Therefore, it is also possible the levels of nut consumption among breast cancer survivors in our study did not reach a threshold of health benefits,” Prof. Shu says.
During the follow-up period, 374 deaths occurred. Among 3,274 survivors, 209 developed breast cancer a second time.
“In summary, in this large cohort study we found nut consumption was associated with better survival,” Prof. Shu reports in the in the International Journal of Cancer.
Finding new ways to stop the most common cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, with doctors diagnosing one in eight American women with the disease at some point in their lifetime. Previous studies have linked diet to disease risk and survival for years. Nuts also have a long connection to reducing the risk of life-threatening illnesses — including cardiovascular disease. However, there has not been a previous connection between nuts and survival outcomes among breast cancer patients until now.
“To fill this knowledge gap, using data from a population-based cohort study, we investigated overall survival and disease-free survival in association with consumption of nuts among long-term breast cancer survivors. Nuts are important components of healthy diets. Promoting this modifiable lifestyle factor should be emphasized in breast cancer survivor guidelines,” Prof. Shu concludes.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.