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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Breast Cancer Risk: Don’t just Avoid Fat, Add Some Oat Beta-Glucan

By Michael McBurney

In 1993 when the FDA confirmed significant scientific agreement existed for a dietary lipids and cancer health claim (21 CFR 101.73), the agency indicated the strongest possible positive association had been found between total fat intake and risk of some types of cancer. In the same year, the FDA indicated diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol were associated with increased levels of blood total- and LDL-cholesterol and, thus, with increased risk of coronary heart disease (21 CFR 101.75).

In the first systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies investigating associations between total-, HDL-, and LDL-cholesterol concentrations in blood and breast cancer, Touvier and colleagues find no association between blood LDL-C concentrations and breast cancer risk. When preclinical bias was removed by excluding women who may have had tumors present since a cancer diagnosis was made within the first years of follow-up (tumors can affect blood cholesterol concentrations), Touvier and colleagues found a modest statistically significant inverse relationship between blood total- and more specifically blood HDL-C and risk of breast cancer. These findings muddy the waters regarding the role of dietary intake with respect to chronic disease.

One of the ways to lower blood cholesterol levels (and reduce risk of cancer and heart disease) is to consume more fruits, vegetables and grain products containing soluble fiber (21 CFR 101.76 and 21 CFR 101.77).

Oat beta-glucan is a soluble fiber from oats. Adding 3g or more of oat beta-glucan to the diet reduces blood total- and LDL-C by 0.3 mmol/L and 0.25 mmol/L, respectively.

Both the FDA and EFSA have approved health claims for food products with oat beta-glucan. The EFSA expert panel concluded that the beta-glucans are adequately characterized that the following claims can be made: ‘maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations, ‘increase in satiety leading to a reduction in energy intake’, ‘reduction of post-prandial glycemic responses’, and ‘improves digestive function’.

When it comes to maintaining healthy blood lipids and lowering chronic disease risk, we needn’t focus just on avoiding fat. There is an opportunity to eat more soluble fiber in the form of oat beta-glucan!

Main Citation

Touvier M, Fassier P, His M, Norat T, Chan DSM, Blacher J, Hercberg S, Galan P, Druesne-Pecollo N, Lation-Martel P. Cholesterol and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. 2015 Br J Nutr doi: 10.1017/S000711451500183X

Other Citations

Whitehead A, Beck EJ, Tosh S, Wolever TMS. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. 2014 Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.086108

Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to beta-glucans from oats and barley and maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 1236, 1299), increase in satiety leading to a reduction in energy intake (ID 851, 852), reduction of post-prandial glycaemic responses (ID 821, 824), and “digestive function” (ID 850) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. 2011 EFSA J doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2207