Magazine article Science News

Mom's Fatty Diet May Induce Child's Cancer

Magazine article Science News

Mom's Fatty Diet May Induce Child's Cancer

Article excerpt

Mom's fatty diet may induce child's cancer

Comparisons of populations with widely divergent patterns of fat consumption have long suggested a link between high-fat diets and certain cancers of the female reproductive system. Yet scientists have also observed that women who switch to low-fat diets don't appear to lower their risk of developing such cancers.

A provocative new animal study now points to a possible explanation: that a woman's dietary risk of developing these cancers may be established before birth by what her mother ate during pregnancy.

Bruce E. Walker, an anatomist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, reared female mice from the onset of sexual maturity through their first pregnancy. Each mouse ate one of four diets differing primarily in the proportion of calories derived from fat -- Roughly 6, 20, 37 or 49 percent. (The typical American diet derives about 38 percent of its calories from fat.) Half the animals in each dietary group also received diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug that gained notoriety when researchers linked it with reproductive cancers in the daughters of women who had taken it during pregnancy. From birth, the female offspring of each group received a low-fat diet without DES.

Having chosen a mouse strain known for its inherent tendency to develop reproductive tumors even without environmental triggers, Walker wasn't surprised when about 10 percent of the daughters of the two low-fat control groups -- the mothers getting no DES--developed such tumors. But he admits to being "quite surprised" when fully half the daughters of the mice on the high-fat but DES-free regimens developed breast, ovarian, uterine and even pituitary cancers, reflecting a fat-related fivefold increase in risk. The only reason he fed some mice DES, he explains, was that he thought any fat effect would be "too subtle" to detect without it. …

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