Eat Junk as a Kid? That might increase your breast cancer risk

Indiscretions of youth…

Every time I turn around, there seems to be another study showing that diet and lifestyle influence your risk of dread diseases. We have known that about heart disease for a while, and to that we can now add: diabetes, Alzheimer’s, liver disease, kidney disease, metabolic syndrome and a spectrum of cancers, including, of course, breast cancer.

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.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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