Health & Nutrition Corner: Peanut butter may lower risk of breast disease and later breast cancer

Written by Dr. Andrew Craig, APC Health Consultant

Here’s some really good news to spread around. A large and powerful prospective epidemiology study published in September’s issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found that American girls consuming peanut butter, peanuts and other nuts may reduce their risks for developing benign breast disease (BBD) when they are young women in their ‘20s. Even better news is that their risks in later life of developing breast cancer may also fall significantly.¹

The “Growing Up Today Study,” a spin-off from Harvard’s landmark Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), which produced these findings included 9,039 females, aged 9–15 years in 1996 from all 50 states, who completed dietary intake questionnaires annually through 2001, and then in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010. These were the daughters of participants in the NHS. The questionnaires revealed that the greatest sources of vegetable fat and protein in these girls’ diets were peanut butter, peanuts, nuts, beans (beans, lentils, and soybeans) and corn. Intake of any of these foods was found to reduce risk, but peanut butter as well as peanuts and other nuts had the strongest association with lower disease risk.

Benign breast disease (BBD) is a well-established risk factor for breast cancer, so reducing it for younger women will positively impact their risk of developing breast cancer when they are older.

What the investigators found was that early intake of peanut butter and nuts (p = 0.01), and the foods combined (p = 0.01) was associated with lower BBD risk. The investigators commented, “Our work suggested that vegetable fat consumed by preadolescent girls and vegetable protein consumed by adolescents may be protective, while peanut butter and nuts, high in both protein and fat, consumed at any age may be associated with lower risk for BBD.” The girls who regularly ate peanut butter or nuts – at least twice a week or more – were 39 per cent less likely to develop BBD by age 30.

For the longer term, the encouraging message from senior investigator Dr. Graham Colditz, associate director for cancer prevention and control at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, is: “These findings suggest that peanut butter could help reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.” This is the kind of simple, cheap and nutritious public health message that needs spreading around as widely as possible and from an early age. Following it would also contribute to better overall health if girls replaced high-calorie junk foods and sugary beverages with peanut butter or nuts.


Source: American Peanut Council

¹ Berkey CS et al. “Vegetable protein and vegetable fat intakes in pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, and risk for benign breast disease in young women”. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2013; 141:299–306. The study was supported by grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (NYC, NY) and by DK046834 from the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD).