Anti-Inflam Diet After Breast Cancer Curbs CVD Mortality

Roxanne Nelson, BSN, RN

November 22, 2016

An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of whole grains, healthy fats, spices, and vegetables may help stave off cardiovascular disease (CVD) in postmenopausal breast cancer survivors, according to a new large study.

Women who followed the anti-inflammatory diet after being diagnosed with breast cancer had a lower risk for CVD mortality compared to survivors eating a traditional Western-style proinflammatory diet.

At a median follow-up of 13 years, the women who consumed the diet with the highest anti-inflammatory rating had a 56% lower risk for death from CVD in comparison with those who consumed more inflammatory diets.

The findings were presented at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) 2011 Research Conference on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer.

"Based on these findings, our take-home message is that the whole diet, and not just a specific food or nutrient, is important for reducing your risk," said lead author Jiali Zheng, PhD, MPH, a graduate assistant at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Dr Zheng and her colleagues measured the inflammatory potential of a diet by using a dietary inflammatory index (DII) that was developed at the University of South Carolina.

Women who had the "most anti-inflammatory diet and were eating less saturated fat but more polyunsaturated fat, more fruits and vegetables rich in flavonoids, more fiber, and more antioxidant foods, such as ginger, garlic, and green tea had the lowest scores," she told Medscape Medical News.

In contrast, women who had the highest DII scores generally ate a diet that was high in refined grains, saturated fat, and cholesterol and that had lower amounts of foods high in antioxidants and nutrients.

Many women who survive breast cancer die of causes that are unrelated to their cancer, and CVD is a major risk in older women.

As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, a population-based cohort study that involved almost 100,000 women reported that among those aged 66 years and older who survived 5 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, CVD was a more common cause of death than breast cancer at 10 years.

CVD Mortality Decreased

The new findings come from an analysis of 2150 breast cancer survivors for the period 1993 to 1998.

All of the cancer survivors had been participants in the long-term Women's Health Initiative (WHI) Study; all were cancer free and were 50 to 79 years of age when they entered the study.

The women in this study had developed invasive breast cancer during the WHI follow-up period. They completed a food frequency questionnaire about a year and a half after their breast cancer diagnosis.

Dr Zheng's team categorized the cohort into four dietary groups, using the DII to assign a score to the inflammatory potential of the patients' diets.

At a median of 13.3 years, 580 of the women had died from all causes, including 212 from breast cancer and 103 from CVD.

The researchers found that a lower anti-inflammatory score was associated with lower CVD mortality (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.43; P-trend, .009), but it was not associated with lower breast cancer–specific mortality (HR = 0.90) or all-cause mortality (HR = 0.80).

Dr Zheng noted that inflammation has been linked to cancer in general and that previous research has consistently shown an association between a proinflammatory diet and colorectal cancer.

"Discussing diet should be incorporated into a treatment plan, as we have found that an inflammatory diet after diagnosis can increase the chance of cardiovascular disease," she said. "But we only looked at older women, so we don't know if it will change the risk in younger, premenopausal women."

The study was partially funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Dr Zheng has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) 2011 Research Conference on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer. Presented November 14, 2016.

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