Low-Fat Diet Falls Short; It's Not Enough to Stop Cancers, Heart Disease

By Harder, B. | Science News, February 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

Low-Fat Diet Falls Short; It's Not Enough to Stop Cancers, Heart Disease


Harder, B., Science News


Reducing fat consumption after menopause offers most women little if any protection against breast cancer or several other diseases, according to three reports from a massive prevention trial. No significant differences in rates of colorectal cancer, heart disease, or stroke emerged during the trial.

But little snippets of information" from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) trial suggest that cutting back on fats may protect some women from breast cancer, says epidemiologist and study investigator Shirley Beresford of the University of Washington in Seattle. She was among nearly 50 investigators who worked on the trial.

For example, one segment of the new data suggests that switching and sticking closely to a low-fat diet prevents breast tumors in women who previously are especially large amounts of fat. People with "bad diets" have the most to gain, says epidemiologist Barbara Howard of the nonprofit MedStar Research Institute in Hyattsville, Md., another of the trial's investigators.

The data also suggest that the dietary switch may block a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer.

Past studies had suggested that people who eat relatively little fat and plenty of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables are at reduced risk for breast and colorectal cancers and heart disease.

The gold standard of diet research is an intervention trial, in which some volunteers are directed to change the way they eat and, for comparison, others maintain their established eating habits. The WHI is the largest dietary-intervention trial ever conducted. It ran from 1993 to 2005 and included nearly 50,000 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, who initially consumed an estimated 32 percent or more of their calories in fat.

Two-fifths of the volunteers were asked to switch permanently from their normal diet to one low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Nutritionists then saw those women at least four times per year and encouraged them to adhere to the regimen.

The average fat intake was 8. …

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