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Folate, Vitamin B6 Fight Breast Cancer

Nutrients Counter Negative Effects of Alcohol on Breast Cancer Risk

WebMD Health News

March 4, 2003 -- Starting the day with a breakfast of fortified cereal and a glass of orange juice may help women lower their risk of breast cancer by helping them get enough folate and other important B vitamins. New research shows those nutrients may be especially important in preventing breast cancer among women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol.

A direct association between alcohol and breast cancer has been demonstrated in numerous studies. Studies have also shown that folate appears to help reduce the heightened risk of breast cancer associated with moderate alcohol consumption. But researchers say little is known about the precise relationship between folate levels in the body and breast cancer risk.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid found in leafy green vegetables and fortified grains. It is also part of a group of vitamins known as B vitamins.

In this study, researchers looked at the link between blood levels of folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 and breast cancer risk among 712 women with breast cancer and 712 otherwise similar healthy women who participated in the Nurses Health Study.

They found women with the highest folate levels were 27% less likely to have breast cancer than those with the lowest folate levels. And the reduction in breast cancer risk was much greater among women who drank about one glass of wine or a cocktail per day. These moderate drinkers with high folate levels were 89% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who drank less than one drink per day.

Women with high levels of vitamin B6 also had about a 30% lower risk of breast cancer than those with low levels of this nutrient. Although high levels of vitamin B12 seemed to protect premenopausal women against breast cancer, the effect was not found among postmenopausal women.

Researcher Shumin M. Zhang, MD, ScD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues say these findings suggest that consuming foods that are rich in these nutrients, such as oranges, orange juice, and fortified breakfast cereals, or vitamin supplements may help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

They add that the study, which appears in the March 5 issue of Journal of the National Cancer Institute, supports the notion that alcohol increases an individual's requirement for folate because alcohol interferes with how well the body is able to metabolize it.

"Achieving adequate folate levels may be particularly important for women who are at higher risk of breast cancer because of higher alcohol consumption," they conclude.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, March 5, 2003.

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