Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Calorie Restriction Lowers Breast Cancer Risk

Study Offers Clues About the Role of Early Diet in Disease

Study Findings continued...

Researchers identified more than 7,300 women in Sweden who had been hospitalized for anorexia prior to age 40 over a three-decade period. A comprehensive national cancer registry was used to compare breast cancer frequency among the former anorexia patients to that of the population at large.

Women with a history of the eating disorder were 53% less likely to get breast cancer than the general female population.

This jumped to a 76% reduction in breast cancer risk in those women who had also given birth. Pregnancy has long been linked to reduced breast cancer risk.

Possible reasons for the observed reduction in breast cancer risk include decreased levels of estrogen and other growth hormones among women on extremely low calorie diets and the restrictive impact that such diets have on cell division.

"Very low calorie intake and low body weight are associated with low estrogen levels, and low estrogen levels have been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer," says Brigham and Women's Hospital chief of obstetrics and gynecology Robert Barbieri, MD.

Another possible reason for the association, Barbieri says, is that people on very low calorie diets have lower levels of human growth hormones such as insulin-like growth factor type 1 (IGF-1). Animal studies show that IGF-1 can promote tumor growth. Barbieri was not involved in the study.

"In worms, growth hormones have been directly linked to life expectancy, and people are wondering if this might be another way in which calorie intake could regulate cancer risk," he tells WebMD.

1|2

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW