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Can a Vegetarian Diet Help Women with Advanced Breast Cancer?

In one of the first studies of its kind, following a vegetarian diet has been shown to improve risk factors in women with metastatic breast cancer.

While many people undergoing conventional treatment for cancer lose weight, 50%-96% of women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer gain weight. And they may even gain as much as 5-13.6 pounds.

That’s concerning because excessive weight gain may increase the risk of progression and death and reduce quality of life.

So, this small study examined whether a whole-food, plant-based diet could improve weight and risk factors in women with metastatic breast cancer.

The 8 week controlled study included 30 women. The control group stayed on the regular diet while the intervention group at a whole-food, plant-based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. They consumed no animal product or added oils or solid fats.

The women on the vegan diet went from an average of 177.5 pounds to 165.7 pounds in just the 8 weeks. That’s an average of about 1.5 pounds a week for a 6.6% decrease in weight, which is significantly better than the control group. They also lost significantly more off the body mass index.

Cholesterol levels improved significantly more in the vegan group. Total cholesterol dropped by 17.7% and the bad LDL cholesterol dropped by 21.4%: both significantly better than the control group.

Insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) improved significantly in the vegan group.

These very fast results “suggest favorable changes within the body, which is very positive,” according to the study’s lead researcher. The researchers say that the study shows that a whole-food, plant-based diet “promotes significant weight loss and improves several cardiometabolic and hormonal risk factors among women with metastatic breast cancer.”

Breast Cancer Res Treat 2024;205:257–266.

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