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Walnuts May Block Breast Cancer, Somehow

September 12, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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A walnut a day—well, actually, about 28 walnut halves a day—may keep breast cancer away.

We’ll spare you the puns about this being a nutty idea and about shelling out for cancer protection at the supermarket. Instead, we’ll point you toward an open-access article published online last month in the journal Nutrition and Cancer that concludes, with about as much surprise as you might feel about this notion:

Exposure to a small amount of walnut in the diet of this transgenic mouse slowed the development and reduced the multiplicity of mammary gland cancers but does not define the mechanism of action for the walnut nor an active ingredient of the walnut.

The study involved mice that were specially bred to be susceptible to breast cancer. Some were fed a typical diet. The others got a diet that included a small amount of walnuts every day—the equivalent of two ounces, or 28 walnut halves, for a human. The mice got the walnut supplement indirectly through their mothers’ milk until weaning, and then directly through their own food.

The nut cases … sorry; the mice who ate walnuts developed breast cancer at less than half the rate of the control group, and the tumors that did develop were significantly smaller in number and size.

Elaine Hardman, PhD, of Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, led the study. A Marshall news release quotes her as saying:

These reductions are particularly important when you consider that the mice were genetically programmed to develop cancer at a high rate. We were able to reduce the risk for cancer even in the presence of a pre-existing genetic mutation.

As for exactly how that happens, the authors admit that the study “does not define the mechanism of action for the walnut nor an active ingredient of the walnut.” The researchers do say, pending (as usual) further research, that omega 3 fatty acids seem not to be the explanation and that vitamin E may be involved.

The study concludes thus: “It seems likely that incorporation of walnuts as part of a healthy diet could reduce the risk of breast cancer in humans.” No joke.

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Related seminar: Pittsburgh Breast Imaging Seminar

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