Health & Spirit

Nutrition News: Breastfeeding Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

Charlyn Fargo on

Breast cancer seems to have touched everyone in one way or another -- whether a relative or friend or yourself. I'm thankful my mom is a two-time survivor.

To mark National Breast Cancer Month in October, the American Institute of Cancer Research highlights a finding from its recent report -- mothers who breastfeed have lower risk of breast cancer. The report states the lower risk is modest, but it's an additional incentive to for new moms to breastfeed if they are able.

Research also suggests that babies who are breastfed are less likely to gain excess weight as they grow. Among adults, AICR research shows that overweight and obesity increases the risk of 11 common cancers.

"It isn't always possible for moms to breastfeed but for those who can, know that breastfeeding can offer cancer protection for both the mother and the child," said AICR's Director of Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, registered dietitian.

AICR recommends that new mothers breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and then add other liquids and foods. This advice is in line with recommendations of other health organizations, including the World Health Organization. Breastfeeding provides the nutrients babies need, helps protect them from infections and asthma and boosts their immune system.

AICR's report updating the global scientific evidence on breast cancer identified and reviewed the 18 studies on lactation. Thirteen of these studies focused on length of time, showing a 2 percent decreased risk per 5-month increase in breastfeeding duration. The report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer is part of the Continuous Update Project (CUP) from AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

Researchers found there are several possible ways that breastfeeding may influence breast cancer risk. Lactation may delay a new mother's menstrual periods, reducing lifetime exposure to hormones like estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer risk. The shedding of breast tissue after lactation may also help rid cells with DNA damage.

The report found other lifestyle links to breast cancer risk. Avoiding alcohol, being physically active and staying a healthy weight were also found to lower risk of breast cancer.

"With the many benefits of breastfeeding it's important that new moms get support to successfully breastfeed for longer than a few days or weeks," says Bender. "It's also critical to know there are steps all women can take to lower the risk of this cancer."

Q and A

Q: Are foods rich in lectins dangerous to eat?

A: Many fad diets today recommend avoiding lectin-containing foods, such as legumes and whole grains. Lectins, a group of proteins sometimes referred to as anti-nutrients, are found in many healthful foods but most abundantly in raw legumes, such as beans, lentils and peas, and uncooked grains, such as wheat and barley. Lectins can be toxic and inflammatory if consumed in large quantities. Raw lectins can cause flatulence, diarrhea and vomiting and they have been linked to an increased risk of certain diseases. Many lectin-rich foods are generally eaten cooked, which significantly reduces their negative effects, About one-third of the foods commonly eaten in the U.S.contain high levels of lectins, but fully cooking lectin-containing foods renders them safe to eat. It is imperative that foods high in lectins, such as beans and grains, but fully cooked. Beans should be rinsed and soaked and the soaking liquid discarded before they are cooked. Fermentation and sprouting also decreases lectin content. Studies consistently show that whole grains and legumes are healthful, so there's no need to avoid them. Just remember to eat a variety of foods to avoid getting high levels from any one particular food. - Environmental Nutrition.


Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill, and a spokesperson for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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