Why Asian Women Have Lower Rates of Breast Cancer

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China is a great place to hold a study — miles and miles away from the typical Western diet. The focus for many researchers for decades has been whether what Asians eat is linked to lower disease rates.

A recent study looked at breast cancer. In 3,000 Chinese postmenopausal women, researchers found that those who ate a diet high in meat and sweets (i.e. the Western diet) had a much greater risk of breast cancer than those who ate a vegetable- and soy-based diet (Chinese).

The ones who followed the “Western-style” diet ate plenty of beef, pork, poultry, shrimp, dairy products, desserts and sweets. The others ate mostly vegetables, rice and soy products. Western eaters were had a 60% higher risk of developing breast cancer.

For decades, the rate of breast cancer has been low in Asian countries. It’s another of the global differences, alongside France and Mediterranean countries’ lower rates of heart problems. In China, rates of cancer are lower than here. And, in every case, diet plays the number one role.

Over the last few years, though, breast cancer rates have been rising in Asian countries. Most experts agree it is the influence of a Western diet. In particular, red meat. For this study in particular, red meat is believed to be the key factor, though they couldn’t discount the possibility that high dairy intake or regular desserts played some sort of role.

This is the first study to find Asian women who follow a Western-style diet to be at higher risk of breast cancer. The study also suggested that this sort of diet increases the cancer risk because it increases the threat of obesity. Could being overweight make adult women more susceptible to tumors?

The breast cancer protection diet was one traditionally consumed in China. It included little meat; instead focusing on tofu, beans, bean sprouts, green leafy vegetables, and cauliflower. Many of the commonly consumed items are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables. This includes most dark salad greens, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts. Members of this family are among the most nutritious foods in the world.

As for soy, this is another piece of proof suggesting that it could help prevent cancer in women. Though there isn’t direct evidence, many studies now suggest that soy could reduce the risk of breast cancer. It’s believed to do so by lowering levels of the hormone estrogen, and lengthening the menstrual cycle.