New research presented at the European Congress on Obesity has suggested that nutrients called phenolic acids – which are found in foods such as coffee, fruit, and vegetables – could have a protective effect against post-menopausal breast cancer. 

The study followed 11,028 women over 12 years – with the participants completing a detailed questionnaire about their diet when joining the study – and in total, 101 of the women developed breast cancer during that time.

The researchers found that women who had the highest levels of phenolic acids in their diet also had a 62% lower risk of developing post-menopausal breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest amounts in their diet.

Researchers leading the study suggested that phenolic acids might be involved in reducing inflammation around the body, which could be one of the reasons they may help to reduce breast cancer risk. 

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, said: 

We've long known that eating fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet can help lower your risk of breast cancer by helping you maintain a healthy weight. While this study helps suggest a potential mechanism behind this benefit, further research is needed to understand the effect that phenolic acids found in foods such as fruit, veg and coffee may have on breast cancer risk.

Supporting more women to make healthy lifestyle changes will be key to preventing more breast cancers - but the small number of breast cancer cases in this study makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the potential role of phenolic acids in cancer prevention. Further studies with follow-up to older ages that also monitor any changes to participants' diets over time are now needed to better understand this link.

In the meantime, while we don't recommend drinking lots of coffee to try to reduce your breast cancer risk, we'd encourage all women to eat plenty of fruit and veg as part of a healthy, balanced diet. By taking steps to maintain a healthy weight, drink less alcohol and keep physically active, all women can help keep their risk of breast cancer as low as possible.