MU study shows walnuts help to suppress breast cancer growth

Published: Mar. 28, 2019 at 4:10 PM EDT
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Could walnuts help women who are dealing with breast cancer?

New research from Marshall University shows that eating walnuts can suppress the growth and survival of breast cancers.

Dr. W. Elaine Hardman led the research team that conducted the study. She is a professor with the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

The team revealed that eating two ounces of walnuts a day for about two weeks significantly changed the genes related to breast cancers.

This trial is the latest in a series of related studies at Marshall related to walnuts and the links to tumor growth, survival and metastasis in breast cancer.

First, researchers tested mice to see how they would react when walnuts were incorporated into the diet.

"We've done a number of mouse studies that show when we add walnuts to the diet of the mice, their implanted breast cancers grow much more slowly. If we add chemotherapy, the response to chemo is better. We then wanted to do a human trial to see if any of this work would transfer to people," said Dr. Hardman.

In the clinical trial, women with breast lumps large enough for research and pathology biopsies were recruited and randomized to walnut consuming or control groups.

After the biopsy was collected, women in the walnut group ate two ounces of walnuts a day for about two weeks.

Biopsies were then collected in both groups again.

The changes in the gene expressions were found in the women who ate the walnuts.

"We found that the expression of over 450 different genes changed in directions that would slow the growth or induce the the breast cancers to die," said Dr. Hardman.

The trial happened over several years. The findings were just recently released.

Dr. Hardman says all nuts are full of antioxidants, but that walnuts have several components that are very important.

"Walnuts have a very high level of Omega-3 fatty acids. We know that those acids are good. Walnuts have a good level of phytosterols. Between all of these, it adds up to a package that is very beneficial," said Dr. Hardman.

She says this study is proof that diet can play a big role in your health.

The findings of this study were published in a journal called Nutrition Research on March 10.

Dr. Hardman says the results show that "walnut consumption could suppress growth and survival of breast cancers."

According to Marshall University, "this study is an example of the critical role of a team in modern research. Breast surgeons Mary Legenza, M.D., of Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center, and James Morgan, M.D., formerly of St. Mary’s Medical Center, collected biopsies from patient volunteers for the clinical trial. Donald A. Primerano, Ph.D., Jun Fan, Ph.D., and James Denvir, Ph.D., of the Genomics and Bioinformatics Core Facility at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine performed the RNA expression profiling, bioinformatic and statistical analyses.

The study was funded, in part, by the California Walnut Commission, which provided the walnuts and necessary funding.