Review Finds Carotenoids (Fruit and Vegetables) Help Prevent Breast Cancer

woman cutting vegetables

woman cutting vegetables“Eat your vegetables; they are good for you!” We have all heard this advice while growing up, struggling to gulp down the vegetables on our plates. And if you are a frequent reader at NaturalSociety, you still hear different versions of this sage advice today, with good reason.

In addition to all the information we know already regarding the benefits of vegetables, researchers reviewing eight different studies recently found another reason to make sure you are getting your daily supply of fresh produce—breast cancer prevention.

Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Oct. 2012), researchers with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School reviewed eight international studies and pooled their results. The studies included over 7,000 women with 3,000 as breast cancer patients and 4,000 control subjects. What they found after adjusting for variables was exciting, if not surprising.

“Significantly high” inverse relationships were found between high blood levels of carotenoids and breast cancer. What this means is that women with more circulating carotenoids in their blood were less likely to have breast cancer.

The study abstract concludes:

“This comprehensive prospective analysis suggests women with higher circulating levels of α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein+zeaxanthin, lycopene, and total carotenoids may be at reduced risk of breast cancer.”

What are Carotenoids?

So, what are carotenoids and how can you ingest more of them? Carotenoids are naturally occurring pigments in fresh fruits and especially vegetables. They include many well-known substances including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. While the researchers found that carotenoid levels varied from woman to woman and study to study, all seemed to show that inverse relationship to breast cancer.

These carotenoids are what give brightly colored produce their beautiful colors. They can be found in the richest concentration in those foods that are the richest in color. Some of these foods include:

  • Bell peppers
  • Spinach, kale, and other leafy dark greens
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Papaya
  • Tomatoes

By eating more of these foods, you can increase your own blood concentration of carotenoids. The body makes the most use of these helpful compounds when they are eaten raw or steamed lightly. Cooking removes some of the potency of your vegetables.

Now, you won’t hear about the cancer preventing benefits of carotenoids from people like those with the Susan G. Komen Foundation – which actually teamed up with Kentucky Fried Chicken in order to promote pink-branded buckets. They make their money off of mainstream (and largely ineffective) prevention and treatment methods.

If you stop cancer before it starts, the organization sees no benefit from you. If, however, you take it’s advice and get a mammogram annually (paying into mammogram-makers in which the foundation holds stock) and then seek treatment like chemotherapy and radiation, the organization (in their mind) has done it’s job.

True cancer prevention comes in the form of a healthy diet and good self-care, not in a bottle, needle, or giant medical device. Here are 5 breast cancer prevention tips.