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Universidad de Navarra

The consumption of alcohol, sugary drinks, coffee, carbohydrates and polyphenols as well as obesity, key to the prevention of breast cancer

On the occasion of World Cancer Day, researcher Dr. Estefanía Toledo of the University of Navarra stresses that food and lifestyle are central to prevention

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FOTO: Manuel Castells
05/02/21 13:36 Carmen Lacarra

Food and lifestyle are key factors in breast cancer prevention. Alcohol, sugary drinks and obesity from certain ages onwards have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.  However, consumption of coffee, polyphenols (present in fruits and vegetables) and certain carbohydrates can have a preventive affect against this disease, says Dr. Estefanía Toledo, from the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra.

On the occasion of World Cancer day, celebrated on 4 February, the researcher has highlighted recommendations for the prevention of this type of cancer.  It is the second most frequently diagnosed tumor-type worldwide and the most prevalent one among European women. The recommendations were obtained from studies undertaken as part of the SUN project (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra).  


“The diet element most consistently associated with breast cancer risk is alcohol,” says Dr. Toledo. “In our study we saw more specifically that a consumption pattern characterized by binge drinking was associated with an increased risk,” she adds.


On the other hand, for postmenopausal women, a protective association was observed in total polyphenol intake, with phenolic acids playing a particularly important role. “They are widely present in certain fruits (such as grapes, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate, and blueberries) and vegetables (such as beetroot, eggplant, onion, and broccoli),” says Dr. Toledo, who is also a researcher with the Ciber-OBN Instituto de Salud Carlos III. They are also found in coffee. Researchers showed that drinking more than one cup a day "was associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer, also in postmenopausal women."

Sugary drinks, carbohydrates and obesity

Research results in the SUN project indicate that  frequent consumption of sugary drinks is associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women, “compared to those who don’t or consume them less than once a month.”

On the other hand, “higher carbohydrate quality was also associated with a lower overall risk of breast cancer,” explains Dr Toledo. “The best are those that contain more dietary fiber (whole-grain bread, pasta and rice) and lower glycemic index (as opposed to products such as industrial pastries, chocolate bars and ultra-processed foods, which cause blood sugar levels to rise very fast). Solid carbohydrates, versus liquids, and whole grains or whole-grain carbohydrates (such as rice and whole wheat) are also of higher quality," she concludes.

Finally, as the SUN project explores the link between obesity and breast cancer, Dr. Toledo explains: “It is appropriate to take a perspective that takes into account the life trajectory of body mass index.” The main results observed are “the association of a marked increase in body figure between 5 and 40 years with an increased risk of breast cancer.”

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