Think Pink With Walnuts

By Charlyn Fargo

November 4, 2011 3 min read

Eating a handful of walnuts a day has the potential to prevent breast cancer. That's the finding of a new study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer. The study found that consuming walnuts slowed both the development and growth of breast cancer tumors in mice.

Considering that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer in the course of their lives, these findings are extremely important and provide deeper insight into choices we can make in our lives to help fight cancer and other chronic diseases.

"We think now that diet can prevent 30 to 60 percent of all cancers," said Dr. Elaine Hardman, professor at Marshall University's Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, who led the research. "The healthy diet that we should be eating is what we know is healthy -- a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Walnuts can be an important component of that diet."

Will other nuts work? Hardman isn't sure. "We haven't tried the study with other nuts," she said. "But walnuts have the highest amounts of most omega-3 fatty acids in combination with other antioxidants."

Hardman's research looked at the effects of a diet containing a modest amount of walnuts -- the equivalent of 2 ounces for humans daily (or about 14 walnut halves) -- across the life span of the mice. The study group, whose diet included walnuts at both stages (through the mother from conception through weaning and then through eating the food directly), developed breast cancer at less than half the rate of the control group with the corn oil diet. In addition, the number and size of the tumors were significantly smaller.

"Using genetic analysis, we found that the walnut-containing diet changed the activity of multiple genes that are relevant to breast cancer in both mice and humans," Hardman said. In previous research with mice, Hardman's lab found that consumption of walnuts slowed the growth of implanted breast cancers.

She's sufficiently convinced of the impact of a healthy diet on preventing cancer; she has shared the information with her own daughter.

"I've told her the little things we do to have a healthy diet make a difference," Hardman said. "The best we all can do is to consume a healthy diet containing walnuts and other healthy items, such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains. I am convinced that could well reduce the risk for breast cancer."

Hardman believes that the whole walnut -- not just one element of the walnut -- provides the benefit against cancer.

"If I tried to strip the walnut apart, I wouldn't see the same benefit," she said.

Charlyn Fargo's weekly column, "Nutrition News," is on

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