New Study Links Starch With Breast Cancer

According to an article posted on on December 8th 2011, entitled “Starch Intake May Influence Risk for Breast Cancer Recurrence, Study Suggests”, starch intake (Note: specifically starch, and not just any old carbohydrate) is responsible for an increased risk of breast cancer.

Researchers have linked increased starch intake to a greater risk for breast cancer recurrence, according to results presented at the 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held Dec. 6-10, 2011.

“The results show that it’s not just overall carbohydrates, but particularly starch,” said Jennifer A. Emond, M.S., a public health doctoral student at the University of California, San Diego. “Women who increased their starch intake over one year were at a much likelier risk for recurring.”

Researchers conducted a subset analysis of 2,651 women who participated in the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) Dietary Intervention Trial, a plant-based intervention trial that enrolled about 3,088 survivors of breast cancer. WHEL researchers studied breast cancer recurrence and followed the participants for an average of seven years.

The subset analysis involved an examination of how changes in carbohydrate intake influenced breast cancer recurrence. “The WHEL dietary trial, even though it focused on fruits and vegetables, fiber and fat, didn’t really have a specific carbohydrate goal,” Emond said.”

Ok…. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, we don’t know exactly what these women were eating to generate this kind of result. Other reports that I have seen on the WHEL study said that the dietary intervention portion of the study was “plant-based” and “very high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber and low in fat”, which of course does leave room for the participants to eat lots of potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and any other possible sources of vegetable starch. Could “French fries” also be completely acceptable under the guideline of this study? Strips of potato, fried to a golden brown in vegetable oil, are of course completely plant-based food, after all.

“She and her colleagues obtained carbohydrate intake information from multiple 24-hour dietary recalls at baseline and at one year. In an annual viagra prescription order phone interview, participants reported everything they had eaten during the last 24 hours. At baseline, carbohydrate intake was 233 grams per day. Results showed that women whose cancer recurred had a mean increase in carbohydrate intake of 2.3 grams per day during the first year, while women whose cancer did not recur reported a mean decrease of 2.7 grams per day during the first year.”

We know that generally, a participant’s “recall” of their dietary intake over a 24 hour period is not always entirely reliable, because people consistently underestimate how much they actually eat. Regardless, the baseline average of 233 grams of carbohydrate per day is quite high in my opinion, especially for people who are desperately trying to avoid a recurrence of cancer.

What’s more striking here though (if I’m reading this correctly), is that women who ate 235.3 grams of carbohydrate had a recurrence of cancer, but those who ate 230.3 grams did not. Or, if I read it a different way, and assume that the women who added 2.3 grams of carbohydrate per day over 365 days, ended up eating a total of 839.5 grams of carbohydrate per day, and the women who decreased their carbohydrate intake by 2.7 grams per day over 365 days, ended up eating -752.5 grams of carbs per day, it’s easy to see why the first group’s diet would be conducive to cancer proliferation.

People can’t eat a negative amount of carbohydrates, I know that. I was basically making fun of the “number play” at work here. But still, if I utilize the first, more logical example, do they really mean that a dietary variance of only 5 grams of carbohydrate, per day can mean the difference between recurrence of cancer, and remaining cancer free?

“Starches were particularly important, Emond said. Changes in starch intake accounted for 48 percent of the change in carbohydrate intake. Mean change in starch intake during the first year was -4.1 grams per day among women whose cancer recurred vs. -8.7 grams per day among women whose cancer did not recur.

When change in starch intake during one year was grouped into quartiles of change, the rate of an additional breast cancer event was 9.7 percent among women who decreased their starch intake the most during one year, compared with an event rate of 14.2 percent among women who increased their starch intake the most during one year.

The change in starch intake was “independent of dietary changes that happened in the intervention arm,” Emond said. “It is independent of more global changes in diet quality.”

After stratifying patients by tumor grade, Emond and colleagues found that the increased risk was limited to women with lower-grade tumors.

These results indicate a need for more research on dietary recommendations that consider limited starch intake among women with breast cancer.”

These statistical comparisons just really don’t look they hold much gravity. 9.7 percent, compared to 14.2 percent, is only a 4.5 percent difference…..that’s not a massive amount folks. If I go to a store, and the clerk says “hey, I’m going to give you a deal, I’m going to take 4.5% off of your total today!”, I’d smile and say thank you, but I’m certainly not going to feel eternally indebted  to the nice person.

HA! And there it is! “The change in starch intake was “independent of dietary changes that happened in the intervention arm,”. The change in the participant’s starch intake was not related to the guidelines of the study, which means the starch sources could have been from anywhere, and they most certainly COULD have come from French fries! As well as starch, what else comes along with your average serving of French fries? You’ve guessed it…. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs), and possible trans-fats. Starches and refined carbohydrates are not “Safe” in almost any amount for people who have a history of cancer, or are trying to avoid it in the future, but when you mix starchy carbs, with trans fats and PUFAs, you certainly can end up with a pro-inflammatory recipe for cancer recurrence.

You can’t easily formulate a high fiber, low-fat diet without the inclusion of wheat. To me, it still seems a little unfair and possibly inaccurate to single-out poor old Starches as the villain here, especially when I’m sure that traces of Wheat were also found at the crime scene. What do you guys think? Does this New Study that Links Starch With Breast Cancer, ring true for you?


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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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6 Responses to New Study Links Starch With Breast Cancer

  1. Paul Rawlinson December 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Nope, doesn’t ring true, but may indicate an opportunity for further research. The conclusions that they have reached are bizarre, to say the least. The most that study does is suggest a possible link between starch intake and breast cancer recurrence. To take the leap and say “These results indicate a need for more research on dietary recommendations that consider limited starch intake among women with breast cancer.” is foolish. The results indicate a possible avenue of research into a link between starch intake and breast cancer recurrence. As you rightly point out Barry, 4.5% difference is small. They would have to find the mechanism triggered by such a small threshold before suggesting the approach should become part of dietary guidelines. Some one wanting to make a home run claim with some first base research IMHO

  2. Karen Vaughan December 30, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    There is a well-known correlation between sugar and cancer. Starch breaks down into sugar almost instantly, even from whole grains (maybe an instant and a half!) Cancers feed on the sugar. No mystery about the mechanism. So it is plausible, even if the entire cancer mechanism is complex.

    Frankly I don’t think most people do well on a grain-based starchy diet, even with whole grains. Large numbers of people are unaware of their gluten sensitivities because they are rarely able to avoid it and compare how they feel. If you avoid starch you avoid wheat, rye, and spelt, the major sources of gluten. Glutinous grains were a minor part of a paleo diet since a grain-based diet requires petroleum or slaves to be sustainable. Avoiding them leaves the body more immune resources to deal with the cancer.

    • Barry Cripps December 30, 2011 at 8:10 pm

      I agree completely Karen. Targeting ONLY starches in such a way, just isn’t realistic. Potentially anything that converts easily to glucose (which encompasses almost all carbs, aside from maybe cellulose), can add to cancer risk.

      Whole grains are just as deadly as refined grains…..thanks to Gluten. Thanks for commenting!!

  3. Aquarium Fish February 13, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading through your posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects? Thanks a lot!

  4. beverley gatman-ruck June 15, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    I have had a breast cancer. had radiotherapy , no chemo as no node involvement. It scares me when i read that Dr McDougall has the starch solution book out. Dr Mercola fine with good fats and eggs. my naturopath says no carbs at all because if pancreas. which i have done and weight going off fast. but i miss my lentils and beans and sweet potatoes and keep to leafy greens etc. very little fruit but i am tired and hungry. so confusing. have a low carb beer and miss a couple if glasses of wine.

    • Jim June 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      HI Beverly…. if your naturopath has a good track record of improving your health and energy, then by all means take his advice seriously. You are totally right when you say things are confusing…. they are confusing to me too, sometimes.

      I wish you health and healing, and energy!

      Prayers to you and your loved ones too…