These foods can make the difference in who becomes a victim to ovarian cancer, the most lethal gynecological cancer known.
Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological cancer in the world. About 20,000 women in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with the disease [many of which, however, may be overdiagnosed]. Unlike some other cancers, researchers haven’t been able to identify many risk factors for ovarian cancer that a woman can control.
But a joint study from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the University of East Anglia in England points to some diet choices that can make a real difference.[i]
The researchers examined more than 30 years of data from the Nurses’ Health Study. They looked at the dietary habits of 171,940 women between the ages of 25 and 55.
The study is the first large-scale review of the link between epithelial ovarian cancer and certain types of foods.
Epithelial ovarian cancers begin in the lining of the ovaries. They account for 85% to 90% of all ovarian cancer and are the most dangerous type. Almost 70% of cases are not diagnosed until an advanced stage.
Researchers reviewed the diets of the women looking for a class of antioxidants called flavonoids. Antioxidant flavonoids can be divided into six subclasses. They include flavanones, flavonols, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavones, and polymeric flavonoids.
The study revealed that women who ate the most foods containing two classes of flavonoids significantly reduced their risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer.
The effective flavonoids included flavanols (found in tea, red wine, apples, and grapes) and flavanones(found in citrus fruit and juices).
Women in the top 10% of those eating the most foods containing these antioxidant compounds had a 29% (for flavanols) and a 28% (for flavanones) lower risk of epithelial ovarian cancer than women who ate the least.
What foods were the lower risk women eating? Their main sources of flavanones were citrus fruits and especially oranges and orange juice. Their main sources of flavanols were black tea, onions, and apples.
Overall, black tea was most effective. Drinking just two cups of black tea a day was associated with a 31% reduction in risk.
The study shows that small changes in diet can have a solid impact on the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Healthy Diet Leads to Better Ovarian Cancer Survival Rates
And maintaining a healthy diet also improves survival rates for women who do develop the disease. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a study of 341 epithelial ovarian cancer patients.[iii] They found a strong relationship between prolonged survival times and what patients were eating three to five years before their diagnosis.
The University of Illinois authors found longer survival was associated with a higher intake of total fruits and vegetables. But it seems the vegetables really made the difference. A higher intake of vegetables alone improved survival.
But the type of vegetables was also important. The study found only yellow and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage) had a significant association with increased survival times.
On the other hand, higher intakes of red, cured or processed meats were associated with a poorer survival time. Dairy of all kinds was also associated with shorter survival times.