- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — Eating less fat late in life failed to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease among older women, disappointing news for those who expected greater benefits from a healthy diet.

Even so, scientists say the results from the government study of 48,835 women don’t mean dieters should just throw up their hands and eat cake.

Researchers suggested that the women in the long-running study — with an average age of 62 — may have started their healthy eating too late. They also didn’t reduce fats as much as the diet demanded, and most remained overweight, a major risk factor for cancer and heart problems.

“These results do not suggest that people have carte blanche to eat fatty foods without health problems,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a co-author of the study.

The eight-year study showed no difference in the rate of breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease among those who ate lower-fat diets and those who didn’t.

But the scientists declined to call the $415 million venture a failure, pointing to signs of less breast cancer in women who cut out the most fat, and less heart disease in women who ate low amounts of the worst kinds of fats.

Heart and cancer specialists said the overall results were not surprising because scientific thinking on the role fats play in disease prevention has evolved since this study was designed. That is especially true when it comes to good and bad fats and heart disease. Some fats, like the kind in olive oil and nuts, are healthier than the saturated fats and trans fats found in processed and fried foods.

The research involved postmenopausal women who either cut overall fat consumption and increased vegetables, fruits and grains, or who continued their usual eating habits. The researchers said the dieters may not have cut out enough fat for a meaningful comparison. Cancer and heart disease incidence was similar in both groups.

“The results, of course, are somewhat disappointing. We would have liked this dietary intervention to have a major impact on health,” Dr. Manson said.

The study, appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association, is part of the Women’s Health Initiative, a landmark government project involving tens of thousands of postmenopausal U.S. women. An earlier WHI study linked long-term use of hormone pills with breast cancer and heart disease risks.

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