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Walnuts May Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Walnuts are produced and eaten all around the world and add more than flavor and crunch to the menu. They have beneficial effects when it comes to heart disease, and a new study indicates that three chemicals in the walnut seem to amplify those favorable effects on breast cancer.

"The omega-3 fatty acid, the phytosterols and antioxidants individually have been shown to prevent or delay cancers," says Dr. Elaine Hardman with the Marshall University School of Medicine in West Virginia. "So if you add them all together, it looks like it may be really good."

Hardman cites a separate study she did involving lab animals that were given a diet containing the exact same amount of omega-3 fatty acid the nuts provide, but without the other components of the walnut.

"It did reduce cancer incidents," she reports, "but not as dramatically as the walnut-containing diet did. So it's something else other than the omega-3 in the walnut that's contributing to the suppression of cancers."

The daily amount of walnuts given to the lab animals is the human equivalent of about 56 grams - or a big handful of nuts.

Hardman's testing on mice that were specially bred to develop breast cancer revealed a three-week delay in tumor development. She says that is a significant improvement, when compared to their typical six-month lifespan. And in humans, she adds, "Since most cancers develop when you're older, if you could increase the time until the cancer develops even 15 percent, then that's a considerable delay, and you might die from something else before the cancer ever showed up!"

Hardman's study was presented to the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, held earlier this month in Denver.