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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 06:46 GMT
Food hope in breast cancer study
Dr Margaret Ritchie and Professor John Cummings
Dr Margaret Ritchie and Professor John Cummings
Methods of beating breast cancer through eating high-fibre foods like strawberries, lentils and soy are being examined by Scottish scientists.

Researchers at the University of St Andrews are developing methods to measure the effects of chemicals called phyto-oestrogens on humans.

The plant hormones, similar to the female sex hormone oestrogen, are found most commonly in soya beans and other high-fibre foods.

Previous research has found women with high levels of phyto-oestrogens in their bodies are less susceptible to cancer.

This is a major breakthrough we are leading and is a massive step forward
Dr Margaret Ritchie
University of St Andrews
This is partly due to the effect they have on lowering natural production of oestrogen, high levels of which have been linked to breast cancer.

Recent research has reported that breast cancer is less prevalent in Asian women, who have a high-fibre diet.

The work by St Andrews-based researcher, Dr Margaret Ritchie, has been described as "exceptionally important" and "invaluable" by independent academics

Dr Ritchie has spent the last three years constructing and validating a database of foods which contain phyto-oestrogens.

Research tool

"So far, nobody in the world can accurately monitor human exposure to phyto-oestrogens, or how people respond to such exposure," she said.

"This is a major breakthrough we are leading and is a massive step forward."

Professor John Cummings, from the University of Dundee, has helped Dr Ritchie identify several suitable biomarkers to give a reliable biochemical snapshot of human exposure.

Cooking with soy sauce
Found in about 300 foods
High concentrations in fruit, vegetables, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, rye and especially soya beans
Potential anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties
Claimed to help prevent prostate cancer and alleviate the symptoms of the menopause
"It was a case of going back to basics. It's amazing that no-one has developed a biomarker of phyto-oestrogen exposure before," said Dr Ritchie.

Her database will assist researchers in painting a clearer picture of the use and effects which could aid the future prevention of breast cancer or assist in its treatment.

The database will be made available on the University of St Andrews website and is already being used in an Edinburgh-based prostate cancer study.

Dr Ritchie studied almost 90 volunteers from all over Scotland, enlisting healthy, cancer-free women aged between 18 and 81, who each kept a food diary for up to six months.

They returned their food diaries and diets and supplied her with over 500 blood, urine and diet samples so that she could measure exposure to phyto-oestrogens.

Some men were included in the research to prove the biomarkers were reliable regardless of gender.

Dr Margaret Ritchie
"There are animal studies which show that these foods may help"

BBC Scotland's Alan Grant
"A database of foods has been built at St Andrews"

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11 Jul 03  |  Scotland

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