Low fat diet shows decreased risk for ovarian cancer

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

A low fat diet could reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in
postmenopausal women, according to the US' Women's Health
Initiative (WHI) Dietary modification trial.

Published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute,​ the results show that after a four-year period, women who decreased the amount of dietary fat they consumed were 40 per cent less likely to develop ovarian cancer than women who followed normal dietary patterns. The results did not reveal strong or statistically significant links for other cancers in the study. The findings are significant not only because they corroborate a link between nutrition and cancer risk reduction, but also because they lend to the idea that diets lower in fats have benefits beyond the prevention of cardiovascular or high-glycaemia-related conditions. Of all the cancers of the female reproductive system, ovarian cancer has the highest mortality. In the UK, ovarian cancer causes more than 4,000 deaths per year, according to Cancer Research UK. While in 2003 in the US, a total of 14,657 women died from ovarian cancer, said the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA). According to OCNA figures, one in 69 women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime and another one in 95 women will die from the disease. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the WHI Dietary modification trial was conducted in 40 clinical centres throughout the country and involved 48,835 healthy postmenopausal women for an average of 8.1 years. The idea behind the research was to test whether a low-fat diet could reduce the risk of both cancer and cardiovascular disease. Approximately 20,000 women on a lower fat regimen were compared to a control group of nearly 30,000 women. The first group of women was advised to decrease its fat intake to 20 percent of total calories and to replace calories from fat with calories from vegetables, fruits, and grains, while the second group received diet-related education materials only. As the researchers had expected, there was no effect determined for the first four years. The researchers found that those women who at the outset of the study had the highest fat intake, and then reduced their fat intake the most during the study, consequently experienced the greatest risk reduction for ovarian cancer. Women in both the study and control groups started with an average consumption of more than 35 per cent of their calories derived from fat. However, at the end of the first year, the low-fat diet group reduced average total fat intake to 24 per cent of calories from fat. This represented an approximately 11 per cent difference between this group and the usual diet group. By the end of the study, women in the low-fat diet group had increased their fat intake again - averaging at 29 per cent calories from fat, compared to 37 per cent calories from fat in the control group. Those on the low-fat diet also increased their consumption of vegetables, fruits, and grains. One of the largest studies of its kind ever undertaken in the US, the WHI trial claims to be the most comprehensive study to date of the causes and prevention of major disease in older women. The low-fat diet trial was one of three randomized clinical trials comprising the WHI - one related to hormone therapy, and the other studied the effects of calcium and vitamin D supplementation on osteoporosis-related bone fractures and colorectal cancer. Calcium and vitamin D supplements were found to be somewhat beneficial for preserving bone mass and preventing hip fractures. Source: Savage, Liz and Andrea Widener. Low-fat diet possibly linked to lower risk of ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst.​ 2007 0: 2141-1497.

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