For Women, Flavonoids are Your Friends

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According to new research conducted in the UK, women are advised to include tea and citrus foods in their diets since flavonoids found in these foods may reduce their risk of ovarian cancer. Flavonoids can be found in many different chemical groups of substances in virtually all plants.

Researchers for the University of East Anglia published their findings in the recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Among their findings was a link between consuming flavonoids and a decreased risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer is where the cancer begins in the surface layer covering the ovary. According to the team, epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type of ovarian cancer, affects 20,000 women in the United States and 6,500 women in the UK each year.

The key finding in the study found that consuming flavonols (found in tea and red wine as well as apples and grapes) and flavanones (found in citrus fruit, such as oranges, and juices), which are classes of flavonoids, adjust key cellular signaling pathways and regulate cancer-inflammation pathways. This suggests that the plant compound flavonoids could reduce ovarian cancer risk.

In addition to tea and wine, fruits and vegetables are the main source of flavonoids in our diets. Additional sources of flavonoids include: apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, and tomatoes. In addition to their cancer fighting activity, flavonoids are shown to have antioxidants, can scavenge free-radicals, and can prevent coronary heart disease.

The researchers analyzed the dietary intake of 171,940 women over the course of three decades to study the relationship between flavonoids and the reduced risk of ovarian cancer. The women, aged 25-55, were given questionnaires every four years over a span of 22 years that analyzed the frequency that certain foods containing flavonols and flavanones were eaten.

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Professor Aedin Cassidy, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, stated “This is the first large-scale study looking into whether habitual intake of different flavonoids can reduce the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer.”

The results of the study found that 723 participants were confirmed to have ovarian cancer. Therefore, the participants who had the highest intakes of flavonol and flavanone had a lower risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer than study participants with the lowest intakes.

Professor Cassidy summarized the results by concluding “The main source of these compounds include tea and citrus fruits and juices, which are readily incorporated into the diet, suggesting that simple changes in food intake could have an impact on reducing ovarian cancer risk. In particular, just a couple of cups of black tea every day was associated with a 31% reduction in risk.”

While the results are encouraging for women’s health, the research team was careful to note some limitations and that additional studies were needed to support their findings. This was the first study to assess the flavonoid subclasses in a normal diet.

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