NDSU researcher finds link between mother's diet, child's cancer risk
FARGO - Chung Park likes to say, "You are what your mother ate."
The North Dakota State University professor and researcher has found a link between diet during pregnancy and reducing the risk of breast cancer in a woman's daughters.
Park, who has been studying breast cancer research for the past 15 years, says his research shows it may someday be possible to prevent the development of breast cancer in daughters of women at risk for breast cancer by supplementing the mother's diet during pregnancy.
He says augmenting a mother's diet with methionine, choline, folate and vitamin B12 may decrease her unborn child's breast cancer risk.
Park's ultimate goal is to be able to say how much of the nutrients pregnant women need to reduce breast cancer risk in their daughters, but Park says it cannot be achieved by his lab alone.
"Many other scientists should embark on this type of research," he says. "This is not a simple issue. It's a very complex issue. This area is a new beginning."
Denise Reynolds, a registered dietitian, wrote about Park's study on eMaxHealth.com, an independent health news organization owned by Hareyan Publishing.
She said methionine is found in meat, fish and dairy products. Food sources of choline include beef and beef liver, wheat germ, eggs, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and certain seafood, she says.
Natural sources of folate include romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens and broccoli. And foods rich in vitamin B12 include most animal foods such as beef, seafood and chicken, Reynolds says.
Keely Ihry of Fargo is 38 weeks pregnant and has already changed her diet to give her baby the best start possible. In fact, Ihry, who works for Clay County Public Health, tried to eat as healthy as she could before she even became pregnant.
"I didn't want to go into the pregnancy feeling I can eat more fast food or ice cream or things like that," she says.
Ihry cooks at home and brings her lunch to work, both because she enjoys cooking and because it gives her control over her portions and the quality of foods she eats.
She wasn't much of a milk drinker before but has been drinking more milk since becoming pregnant. Ihry has also added more fruits and vegetables to her diet and cut out caffeine.
"Working in public health, I know a lot of the links between eating healthy and introducing healthier foods during pregnancy for positive health effects in the end," Ihry says.
In Park's research titled "In Utero Exposure to Dietary Methyl Nutrients and Breast Cancer Risk in Offspring," the professor studied 45 rats split into two groups.
One served as a control group while the other was fed a supplemented diet.
Female pups were given a chemical to induce breast cancer and were followed for tumor development. Study results showed that offspring whose mothers received the supplemented diet showed a decrease in tumor incidence and growth and had fewer tumors and fewer tumors that multiplied than the control group.
"Methyl nutrients may impact changes in the DNA, which in turn controls the genetic imprint of specific genes involved in development of cancer in the offspring," Park says.
Park's research, which is supported and funded through the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, is relatively new, he says. Many people have studied the deprivation of these nutrients on mammary cancer, but Park says that's irrelevant because it's highly unlikely that a normal human diet would lack these nutrients.
"Supplementing these four nutrients for pregnant women, our lab is the only lab in the world approaching that direction," Park says.
Sajin Bae, a master's student working in Park's lab, says she's proud to be able to take part in the research.
"My grandmother died because of cancer when I was young," Bae says. "I was so sad, but now I'm taking part in cancer research with nutrition, and nutrition is available to everyone."
She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in nutrition and cancer and says, "I really hope someday we can contribute to human health to prevent cancer using nutrients."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526