Since the War on Cancer was launched in 1971 with $100 million in federal funding, amazing advances have been made in the early diagnosis and treatment of the second greatest killer of Americans. At the time, some 25 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer died within five years of diagnosis. Today, that number has dropped to 10 percent. However, there are still more wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends to save. Over a quarter of a million women in the United States alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
The 1970s initiative created cancer research opportunities, and the publicity campaigns it engendered brought breast cancer, as well as other cancers, out of the shadows. We learned to conduct self-exams, talk about signs and symptoms with our doctors, and tackle lifestyle habits thought to contribute to disease.
And one of the factors that is most in our control is our diet.
“It is empowering for women to be able to make changes in their lifestyle and diet to reduce the risk of developing cancer and other diseases,” says Michelle Smekens, N.D., FABNO, naturopathic oncology provider at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
The (Potential) Power of Avocados
While avocados are by no means a miracle cure, they can contribute to a balanced, healthy diet that could help you reduce your chances of getting breast cancer.
In a review of research on the potential power of avocados, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles looked at evidence that specific extracts of avocado can inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells and oral cancer cells. They concluded that the phytochemicals in avocados make them potentially beneficial for cancer prevention. Still, there is very little research on breast cancer itself.
“There are no studies to date specifically linking avocados with breast cancer risk reduction,” says Smekens. However, they would be considered part of a diet that is beneficial for breast health. One example of a healthy diet is the so-called Mediterranean diet, which involves daily vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains, and eating lean proteins just a few times a week.
“Women who eat a high animal fat diet have an increased breast cancer risk,” says Smekens. “A traditional Mediterranean diet, low in animal fat and high in monounsaturated fats, may explain part of why this particular diet is beneficial for breast health.”
What Else Is Great About Avocado?
“Olive oil and avocados are foods with high levels of monounsaturated fats. Previous research has shown reduced risk of aggressive breast cancer in women consuming diets rich in olive oil,” says Smekens.
In addition to being a source of healthy fats, avocados contain many nutritional elements that have been shown to be helpful in reducing breast cancer risk.
B vitamins help you turn food into energy, and support nervous system and blood cell growth. A 1-cup serving of raw avocado gives you about:
- 30 percent of your daily target of folate
- 19 percent of your daily target of vitamin B-6
- 13 percent of your daily target of niacin
A 2011 report followed breast cancer rates over a nine year period in women who had little access to fortified foods and supplements, meaning they got most of their nutrients from unprocessed sources. Women who consumed more B vitamins were found to have lower breast cancer rates.
Lutein is a carotenoid, a naturally occurring plant pigment found in avocado. The Harvard sponsored Nurses’ Health Study has found that consuming lutein is associated with lower breast cancer risk.
“Avocados are high in lutein, which is also associated with eye health,” says Smekens. “A 2014 Chinese study showed higher serum lutein levels were associated with a 51 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer. Dietary intake of lutein and other naturally occurring antioxidants may also be contributing to the protective benefits of the Mediterranean diet in postmenopausal women.”
One cup of raw avocado provides 40 percent of your daily dietary fiber need. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, diets high in fiber may help protect against breast cancer.