Eating vegetables and fruits such as melon can drastically reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, a study revealed today.
Women who eat lots of food rich in certain carotenoids – such as orange fruits, green veg and watermelon – are less likely to develop the disease.
The micronutrient has long been renowed for its antioxidant properties but researchers now believe they can also prevent the formation of cancerous tissue in the breast.
Scientists at Harvard Medical School made the discovery in a pooled analysis of nearly 7,000 people tested in eight different studies worldwide.
Carotenoids are a family of more than 40 different unsaturated hydrocarbon nutrients, synthesised by certain plants that are rich in Vitamin A.
The three most significant cancer-fighting carotenoids are Alpha-carotene, Beta-carotene and lycopene.
Carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe melon and spinach are just a few of the foods that packed full of cancer-fighting Alpha and Beta carotene molecules.
Watermelon is the best food for boosting carotenoid levels – only one slice contains three times more lycopene than an average person has in their entire body.
Lycopene is the most effective carotenoid at beating cancer cells, but beta-carotene is the more common form of the wonder nutrient and can be found in yellow, orange and green leafy fruits and vegetables.
The greater the intensity of the orange colour, the more carotene it contains, meaning bright orange cantaloupe melons and sweet potatoes are packed full of the potentially life-saving micronutrient.
To allow cancer-fighting levels of carotenoids to build up in the body, a woman would have to eat more than two portions of carotene-rich foods daily.
The study states: “There are several proposed mechanisms by which carotenoids may influence carcinogenesis.
“Carotene may decrease cancer risk indirectly through their metabolism to retinol [a cancer-fighting form of Vitamin A], which in turn regulates cell growth, differentiation, and apoptosis [deliberate destruction of malfunctioning cells] via direct and indirect effects on gene expression.
“Carotenoids also may be directly anticarcinogenic by several other mechanisms, including enhanced immune system functioning, or antioxidant scavenging of reactive oxygen species – this may inhibit cellular dysregulation or DNA damage.”
The team from Harvard Medical School analysed studies from across the world that included 3,055 case subjects and 3,956 matched control subjects.
Researchers found that in over 3,000 case subjects, there was a significant association between higher circulating levels of carotenoids and reduced risk of breast cancer.
They found that carotenoids help the body fight combat estrogen receptor negative cancers.
Eating these vitamin A-rich wonderfoods may also reduce the risk of breast cancer for women who lead unhealthy lifestyles.
The study states: “Given the potential antioxidant effects of carotenoids, it is possible that women who smoke or consume alcohol, lifestyle factors associated with oxidative stress, may gain more benefit from carotenoids.”
Data was drawn from eight different studies including those undertaken in Britain, America, Europe, Sweden, and China.
The study concludes: “The results of this large pooled analysis suggest that women with higher circulating carotenoid levels are at reduced breast cancer risk.
“A diet high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables offers many health benefits, including a possible reduced risk of breast cancer.”
Entitled ‘Circulating carotenoids and risk of Breast cancer: Pooled Analysis of eight Prospective Studies,’ the study was led by Heather Eliassen at Harvard Medical School, and is published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.