Every time one of these studies comes out, it’s greeted with a chorus of “Gee, whiz!” I’ve long wondered why everyone finds these results at all surprising. I mean, garbage in, garbage out, right?
This week, another such study came out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This time, there’s an interesting wrinkle: What you eat as a kid may influence your risk of breast cancer later in life.
A team lead by scientists at University of California at Davis tested mice by feeding them a certain kind of “conjugated fatty acid” (the geek name for polyunsaturated fat, those found in plant oils) that has been linked to metabolic syndrome, diabetes and other problems of obesity.
The thought behind the study: Early breast development heightens breast cancer risk. Could dietary fat influence breast development? Apparently, epidemiological studies—number crunching Centers for Disease Control statistics and other data—have suggested this link. But no one had shown this hunch to be true in a biological system, i.e. a mouse or a human.
So what did the UC Davis team find? Mice fed these special fats did indeed start to develop breasts and, here’s the kicker: They did so even if their ovaries had been removed! Why is this important? Well, breast growth and puberty have long been thought to start up in reaction to an increase in estrogen produced by the ovaries. Now, this study seems to suggest, it turns out that just eating a lot of fat can kick start breast development, increasing breast cancer risk by increasing the amount of time that breasts are on the scene.
Apparently, according to coverage in the journal Oncology, this is the first direct evidence that dietary fat can act like estrogen, and lead to breast development.
There’s nothing I can do about the Fritos corn chips and Hostess fruit pies that I consumed as a kid, but now I’ve got one more reason to hold my ground during food battles with my own daughter.