A new study out of Wake Forest School of Medicine indicates that diet could be an important factor in avoiding breast cancer. The research used primates called macaques in order to evaluate the effects of food on breast health.

One group of primates was fed a high-fat Western diet, with the majority of protein coming from animal sources, and another was fed a Mediterranean diet, with the majority of fat and protein coming from plant sources. After two and a half years, scientists analyzed breast tissue in the primates, specifically looking at what's called a microbiome.

The microbiome is a vast community of microorganisms including bacteria. The microbiome that has been studied the most is the one found in the gut. Dr. Carol Shively is a co-author of the study. She says microbes can be found in other parts of the body, and be specific to that area. And that means that a microbiome can be used to evaluate breast health.

“We just never knew anything about microbiomes in breast tissue before, never mind that they could be special to breast tissue," she says. "And it opens up this whole new realm of biology for us that we can explore and find ways to intervene therapeutically to help protect women from breast cancer.”

The study concluded that a Mediterranean diet was more favorable to the microbiome in breast tissue. 

“Typically what we see is that western diet reduces the number of different kinds of microbes in the microbiome and it also changes the distribution so that there's fewer of certain kinds of bacteria that are thought to protect against malignancies,” Shively says.

Additional studies are being conducted which will look at the influence of fish oil and probiotic supplements on the microbiome in the breast gland.

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