Get off the SOFAS

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Wrapping up this morning’s session on Obesity and Cancer: Implications for Public Health, Dr. Suzanne Murphy spoke about the “new” dietary advice to reduce energy (eat less). The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines include the following: Americans should “significantly reduce intake of foods with added sugar and solid fat.”

An easy way to remember: SOFAS (SOlid Fats and Added Sugar).

For ideas on how to “get off the SOFAS” see the AICR expert report recommendation on sugary drinks and energy dense foods. You can also get information on how to make changes from the AICR New American Plate section of aicr.org.

Cancer, Nutrition and the Wide World of Proteins

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First there was genomics and now there is proteomics, one of the emerging areas of scientific research. Proteomics is the study of all the proteins made by our genes, and that’s a lot of proteins: Humans have about 20,000 genes and one gene could direct the production for tens of proteins.

It’s the nutritional proteomics session of the AICR Research Conference and there’s a lot of cutting-edge research being presented. As Dr. John Milner of the National Cancer Institute points out, food components all must have a target action site, and that is always a protein. Can exercise change our proteome? How do certain foods alter the proteome and thereby, help prevent cancer?

In one presentation, Dr. Coral Lamartiniere at the University of Alabama at Birmingham discussed his research showing that the timing of consuming a soy component – genistein – plays a big role in breast cancer risk. In animal studies, he found consumption of soy during pre-puberty reduced the risk of breast tumors. Once exposed to genistein during pre-puberty, consuming the compound as an adult increases the protective effect.

Then Dr. Lamartiniere identified the different proteins in the breast tissue between the animals that consumed and did not consume genistein.  Knowing the proteins involved will help researchers understand how genistein may play a role in breast cancer prevention and susceptibility.

It’s early, but nutritional proteomics holds a lot of promise for understanding cancer risk, says Dr. Milner. As this session made clear: more research is underway.

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer

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Dr. Pam Goodwin, oncologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, CA  presented Thursday afternoon on breast cancer and vitamin D, a very hot topic.

There’s lots of interest in this connection because there are studies showing an association between vitamin D blood levels and breast cancer risk:  Lower levels show increased risk.

However, Dr. Goodwin pointed out that this association is only observed when blood was drawn after diagnosis.  When data was analyzed looking at blood drawn before diagnosis, there was no association.  She reported that the strongest studies do not show an association vitamin D and breast cancer risk.

What about for survivors?

For women with diagnosed breast cancer, many studies show low levels of vitamin D status at diagnosis.  However, two very recent studies show vitamin D deficiency to be more uncommon, though  present in 10-20% of these women.  This may be because more women are taking vitamin D supplements.

Some data show an association between vitamin D deficiency and shorter survival, but a randomized clinica trial did not show any association.

With all these conflicting results, what is the take-away message?

Dr. Goodwin’s take:

  1.  The evidence thus far is not convincing that there is a causal association between vitamin D status and breast cancer risk or for prognosis.
  2. Regardless of the vitamin D and breast cancer association, there are other health problems associated with D deficiency, so it is reasonable to use vitamin D supplementation to obtain sufficient blood levels.
  3. It will also be important to study, using preclinical studies, what the effects are of higher levels (above sufficient levels) of nutrients, such as vitamin D. 

 

Finally, Dr. Goodwin advises breast cancer patients on chemotherapy to use the standard dose of vitamin D supplement until we know more about chemotherapy and vitamin D.