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Will Grapefruit Really Increase My Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?

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Updated August 05, 2008

Grapefruit

Grapefruit

Karl Stephan
Question: Will Grapefruit Really Increase My Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?
News about breast cancer research makes international headlines, and appears to be the latest truth about this disease. But are the headlines always completely accurate? Is grapefruit actually deadly?
Answer:

Don't worry yet – there’s no need to toss out all your grapefruit! Check out these conflicting headlines:

Grapefruit May Raise Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Researchers at the University of Southern California and University of Hawaii have done the only study which takes a look at a possible link between grapefruit consumption and breast cancer risk. The authors of the study, which surveyed 50,000 postmenopausal women, have concluded that "grapefruit intake may increase the risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women." Grapefruit seems to increase estrogen levels, a factor that is associated with breast cancer risk.

Grapefruit Could Help Cure Your Breast Cancer
Only a week later, researchers at the University of Chicago reported that patients taking lapatinib, a breast cancer drug, with a fatty meal and grapefruit juice, could get five times the benefit of the drug, because the food and grapefruit juice aids its absorption. But don’t change your medicine habits based on that one scholarly paper. More tests are needed before definitive results can be reached.

And What About the Grapefruit Diet?
On the fad diet front, the grapefruit diet has its many admirers, who either eat the fruit or drink the juice before each meal, hoping to lose weight by tapping in to the power of special enzymes in the fruit. This diet has been popular since the 1920s and 30s among people who wanted to burn fat, exercise only a little, and drop their extra pounds. But sticking to this diet also requires sticking to an intake of only 800 calories a day, and being very choosy about the foods you eat while on the grapefruit diet. And there's been little research in this area.

Confusing Indeed! So, should you panic?

News Coverage vs. Medical Experts
Researchers will tell you that if only one study has been done, it makes a fine headline, but it isn’t the final word in health science. Medical research is carefully done, and is a long process that allows for challenge and validation. Studies on breast cancer risks, treatments, and survival get great news coverage, but also frighten many people, because of the way the research results are reported. If only one or two studies proclaim a new hazard or a new cure, don’t panic. Wait until a well-respected authority, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Agency puts its stamp of approval on the definitive answer, then you can respond.

Take-Home Message:
Don't panic if one or two new medical stories make news. Wait to hear what the whole medical community agrees on. Meanwhile, you can still eat grapefruit and drink its juice. Just practice Aristotle's doctrine: "Moderation in all things."

Sources:
Prospective study of grapefruit intake and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women: the Multiethnic Cohort Study, K R Monroe, S P Murphy, L N Kolonel and M C Pike, British Journal of Cancer (online),

Breast cancer drug works better on a full stomach, Medical Research News, Published: Tuesday, 17-Jul-2007 http://www.news-medical.net/?id=27692
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