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Food Science

Eating Fatty Foods During Pregnancy Linked to Breast Cancer in Offspring

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Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 6:00 AM
click to enlarge queso fundido - FLICKR/MAUREEN LUNN

In the "Well This Really Sucks" department, a new study has found that women who eat a lot of fatty foods during pregnancy increase their daughters' -- and even their granddaughters' -- chances of getting breast cancer, the UK's Daily Mail reports.

Now we've gotta worry about what our grandmas ate?

Apparently so. According to research by scientists at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., eating an unhealthy diet can "permanently alter the cells of an unborn baby -- and future generations." Based on the findings, Britain's National Health Service is recommending that pregnant women do not "eat for two" and that they avoid fatty foods.

The Georgetown researchers fed pregnant rats either a normal diet or one much higher in fat. Even when the daughters and granddaughters of the mice who ate fatty foods were fed a healthy diet, they were found to have a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer.

A fatty diet is linked to higher levels of the female sex hormone estrogen, which has been implicated in breast cancer.

While the findings have not been confirmed in humans, lead author Dr Sonia de Assis said: "What a mother eats or is exposed to during pregnancy can increase her daughter's breast cancer risk. What we found for the first time is that increased breast cancer risk of those daughters can be passed down to granddaughters and even great-granddaughters and that is without any further exposures."

The researchers, who published their study in Nature Communications, believe their findings could explain why breast cancer tends to run in families, yet most cases are not genetic. They believe diet and chemical exposures in the womb can switch on or off certain genes permanently for generations, a process called epigenetics.

All of the rat offspring in the Georgetown study appeared normal, but those exposed to high-fat diets had more terminal end buds -- structures in breast tissue linked to cancer that both rats and humans have.

When exposed to a cancer-causing agent, those rats developed more breast tumors than the rats whose mothers ate healthily (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein).

Thanks for eating all of that deviled ham-cheese dip, Grandma.


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