Diets Rich in Carotenoids Slash Girls’ Risk of Benign Breast Disease by Half

Have daughters or (like us) granddaughters?

Make sure they eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids, and you could go a long way toward protecting their future breast health.

According to a new study published in Pediatrics, girls whose intake of beta-carotene was highest during adolescence slashed their risk of developing benign breast disease by 50 percent later in life.

No doubt you’re aware of the threat of breast cancer to women’s health. But what is benign breast disease? This umbrella term covers several non-cancerous conditions of the breast that typically affect teenage girls and young women. The word “benign” may be a misnomer though, as overall, young women with benign breast disease have between one and a half to two times the odds of developing breast cancer.

Not many lifestyle factors have been found to protect against benign breast disease, but carotenoids now rank among the few. These protective phyto-nutrients are plentiful in orange, red, and  dark-green fruits and vegetables—such as papaya, carrots, tomatoes, kale, and spinach.

The large, long-term observational study, which was conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, followed almost 6,600 girls (average age of 12) for 14 years. Researchers divided them into four groups based on their carotenoid intake and controlled for factors that could influence the results, such as alcohol intake, smoking, exercise, family history of breast disease, and body mass index. They then tracked how many carotenoids the girls consumed from 1996 to 1998 (based on food diaries) and their incidence of benign breast disease in 2005, 2007, and 2010 (7-12 years later) to see if there was a correlation.

There was: the incidence of benign breast disease among girls who ate the most foods rich in beta-carotene was almost half that of those who ate the least.[2] The study also found smaller protective effects for other carotenoids—such as alpha-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin—but they were not statistically significant. The best news is that the girls in the highest intake group didn’t have to eat an unreasonable amount of carotenoid-rich foods to get the protective benefit: just two to three servings per week.

The fact that the study followed adolescents is important, because the span of time between a girl’s first period and the rest of her adolescence is thought to be a particularly sensitive one for breast tissue, which is especially vulnerable to environmental toxins.

Scientists don’t know how carotenoids protect breast tissue, but they speculate it may be their antioxidant properties. Carotenoids neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals (or oxidants) that can harm cells. It could be that by reducing oxidative stress, they prevent free radical damage to breast tissue.

The lead researcher of the study, Caroline Boeke, concludes, “Eating carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables like carrots and sweet potato, pumpkin, kale and spinach may be protective against breast disease and certainly has many other health benefits… Encouraging consumption of these foods is a great thing.”

It’s just one more piece of evidence that childhood nutrition matters and another reason to encourage kids and teens to eat their fruits and vegetables—of all colors.

ROBERT AVERY, M.D.

Dr. Robert Avery is a medical oncologist at Cancer Care Center of Montgomery, Alabama, specializing in hematology and oncology. In this video, Dr. Avery talks about the importance of healthy eating for improved gene health. Dr. Avery explains, “The key here is that if you eat well, then the nutrition helps keep your genes healthy, helps keep the good genes working and the bad genes turned off.” He recommends Juice Plus+ products because of “the positive changes that occur in our cells when we feed them well.” Dr. Avery states, “We’re all threatened by toxins and bad genes, but given the proper fuel, our bodies can work hard to protect us.” Dr. Avery is currently an associate clinical professor of Medicine for the University of Alabama Birmingham residency training program in Montgomery. In addition, he actively lectures to the residents and staff at Baptist South Medical Center, serves as a regular speaker for the Juice Plus+ Prevention Plus+ Education Series, and is a board-certified fellow of American College of Physicians.