Magazine article Science News

Plant Estrogens May Ward off Breast Cancer

Magazine article Science News

Plant Estrogens May Ward off Breast Cancer

Article excerpt

Imagine a dinner that starts with hummus, a chickpea spread, slathered on bite-size slices of rye bread. Then move on to a tomato-soybean casserole laced with hot sauce. The side dish consists of shredded carrots dressed with lemon juice, cumin, and mint. Cap the meal with blueberry pie.

Sound good? Not to aspiring breast cancers.

Each course contains a significant helping of phytoestrogens, a family of plant-based compounds that weakly mimic the animal kingdom's primary female sex hormone. Women who eat foods rich in these compounds appear to have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer, a new Australian study finds.

David Ingram and his colleagues at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Perth recruited 144 volunteers--age 30 to 84--newly diagnosed with breast cancer and an equal number of demographically matched women without the cancer. They sampled urine excreted over a 72-hour period for lignans and isoflavonoids, two types of plant estrogens.

Whole-grain foods, berries, and certain root crops are rich sources of lignans. Legumes, especially soy beans, contain isoflavonoids. The researchers relied on the concentrations of these substances in urine to gauge how much phytoestrogen-rich food a woman was typically eating. At least five earlier studies by other researchers had found some evidence that such compounds might reduce breast cancer risk.

In the Oct. 4 Lancet, Ingram's team reports that "for all phytoestrogens, [cancerfree] women had higher median excretion rates. …

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