Eating Peanut Butter in Adolescence Helps Reduce Risk of BBD in Adulthood, Study Finds

Barry Simon, MD, FACR

By: Barry Simon, MD, FACR

You are what you eat, as the saying goes, and every day medical research establishes the critical link between nutrition and physical well-being.

Recently, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reported findings that adolescent girls who regularly ate vegetable protein and fat — especially peanut butter and nuts — reduced their risk of developing benign breast disease as young women.

The study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment suggests that dietary habits can be as significant — or more — as family history in determining whether women develop BBD (benign breast disease).

Researchers noted that, “Girls with a family history of breast cancer had significantly lower risk if they consumed these foods or vegetable fat.”

And they concluded that “consumption of vegetable protein, fat, peanut butter, or nuts by older girls may help reduce their risk of BBD as young women.”

Peanut Butter

The decreased risk of BBD was most strongly associated with consumption of peanut butter or peanuts as a source of vegetable protein or fat, depending on the age of the girls.

Among 9- to 15-year-old girls, vegetable fat consumption reduced the risk of BBD, with peanut butter and peanuts being the most highly consumed vegetable fat among the girls in that group.

At younger ages, eating vegetable fat from peanut butter and peanuts twice a week led to a 44 percent decrease in risk for BBD.

And in older ages, it was the vegetable protein — again, mostly from peanut butter and peanuts — that was associated with a decreased risk.

BBD is not cancerous, but it can raise the risk of developing breast cancer.

Women with BBD may have lumps or tender spots that turn out to be fibrous tissue and/or cysts, or possibly conditions, such as hyperplasia, which is an overgrowth of the cells that line the ducts in the glandular breast tissue.

For the study, titled “Vegetable Protein And Vegetable Fat Intakes In Pre-Adolescent And Adolescent Girls, And Risk For Benign Breast Disease In Young Women,’’ researchers examined the eating habits of 9,039 females, ages 9 to 15 in 1996, who completed food frequency questionnaires each year through 2001, and then again in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010.

Beginning in 2005, the women in the group who had reached ages 18 to 30 reported whether they had ever been diagnosed with BBD that was confirmed by breast biopsy.

Researchers then compared the data sets and found that those women who had eaten peanut butter or nuts twice a week in adolescence were 39 percent less likely than peers who never ate those foods to receive a diagnosis for benign breast disease.

The data suggests that foods such as soy and other beans and lentils and corn also may reduce a woman’s risk of benign breast disease.

But because those foods were not as common as peanut butter and nuts in the diets of the girls who participated in the study, the evidence for the effects of these foods was not as strong.

Among the findings highlighted by the research:

  • A daily serving of any one of these was associated with a lower risk of BBD;
  • Peanut butter (and nuts) at age 11 was associated with reduced risk of BBD;
  • In analyses of diets at age 14, vegetable protein was associated with lower BBD risk. And a daily serving at age 14 of any one of the foods was associated with lower risk.

The report’s findings echo results of previous research into adolescent diets, as recalled in adulthood, which also found lower risk for BBD with higher intake of vegetable fat and nuts during high school.

But this is the first study to use more reliable evidence by comparing data recorded during adolescence and followed up with cases of diagnosed disease in adulthood — as opposed to having women recall what they ate when they were in high school.

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