Eating peanut butter as teen may be tied to later breast health

October 4, 2013 | by Denise Heady

A new study suggests that girls who eat peanut butter as teens and pre-teens may lower their risk of benign breast disease later in life.  A new study suggests that girls who eat peanut butter as teens and preteens may lower their risk of benign breast disease later in life.

Peanut butter is not only packed with nutrition, making it an excellent lunch-box and snack choice, but a new study suggests that girls who eat it as teens and preteens might have a lower risk of benign breast disease later in life.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, analyzed the consumption of vegetable fat and vegetable protein by 9,039 adolescent and preadolescent girls, ages 9 to 15, who took part in the Growing Up Today Study. The researchers then analyzed the consumption of peanut butter, peanuts, nuts, beans and corn specifically.

“A daily serving at 14 years of any one of the foods was associated with lower risk, as was peanut butter (and nuts). Girls with a family history of breast cancer had significantly lower risk if they consumed these foods or vegetable fat,” the researchers wrote. “In conclusion, consumption of vegetable protein, fat, peanut butter, or nuts by older girls may help reduce their risk of BBD as young women.”

As for peanut butter specifically, the researchers found, preteen and teen girls who consumed it at least three times a week had a 39 percent lower risk of developing benign breast disease as an adult.

Although benign breast disease is a common, noncancerous condition, it could increase the risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

The findings were published recently in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. They were based on annual questionnaires about diet from 1996 to 2001, and on biannual questionnaires until 2010.

Other sources of vegetable fats and proteins — such as lentils, beans and soybeans — could also have the same effect as peanut butter, the researchers noted, but they added that the data on these foods were not as abundant as the data on peanut butter.

As compelling as the findings are, however, they did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between peanut butter consumption and a lowered risk of benign breast disease, merely a correlation. And that gives one City of Hope expert reason to pause before recommending daily peanut butter for everyone.

Steven Chen, M.D., an associate clinical professor of breast and endocrine surgery at City of Hope, told HealthDay that the study was well done, but at this point in the research, he said, it’s hard to explain the link between the consummation of peanut butter and a reduced risk of benign breast disease.

"It's always good to lower any risk [of breast cancer or breast disease] you can, but whether peanut butter intake will have a major impact on developing breast cancer down the line, only time will tell," Chen said.

Chen also noted that, although lowering benign breast disease does lower breast cancer risk, many other factors increase breast cancer risk. Of note, he said, in countries where less meat is eaten, less breast cancer is reported.

So getting some protein through vegetables is a good idea. And, he said, based on the study findings, teen and preteen girls certainly "shouldn't avoid peanut butter and nuts if they are not allergic."

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