Between the hot flashes and depression, menopause is a challenging time for women, bringing with it physical and emotional changes. According to a recent report, powerful plant-based compounds called lignans may be one weapon in the arsenal for post-menopausal women seeking to prevent a particularly dreaded change: the development of breast cancer.
So which foods contain lignans? Flax seeds and sesame are especially high in plant-based lignans. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, and sprouts also contain modest amounts of these beneficial compounds.
Lignans are one of three main classes of phytoestrogens, naturally occurring plant hormones that are structurally similar to the estrogen in women’s bodies. Excessive concentrations of estrogen in the body are associated with a higher breast cancer risk. Because they are structurally similar to estrogen, phytoestrogens are able to bind estrogen receptors in the body, and may confer a protective effect against the development of breast cancer, in part by inhibiting more biologically-potent endogenous estrogen from exerting their effects on target cells.
For the recent review, research from nearly two-dozen previous studies was analyzed to determine if a diet high in lignans was associated with a reduced risk for developing breast cancer. The researchers also looked at how the risk may differ depending on the estrogen receptor status of the breast cells. Estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cells have estrogen receptors to which these plant hormones can bind. On the other hand, estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cells do not have these receptors.
The researchers did not find a definite link between lignan exposure and a lowered overall risk for breast cancer development for women in general. However, specifically in post-menopausal women, the pooled data from thirteen previous studies did show that women with higher lignan intakes had a 14 percent reduced risk for developing breast cancer than women with lower lignan intakes. As for the estrogen-receptor status, this factor did not appear to make any difference toward developing breast cancer.
As the importance of lignans in your diet becomes increasingly evident, it may be time to add some flax seeds to your meals. Don’t forget: everything in moderation. Some nutritionists recommend no more than 3 to 5 tbsp. of ground flax seeds daily.