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Be Well

Environmental factors and type 2 diabetes

Scientists are just beginning to understand how our genes interact with our environment to increase or decrease our risk for certain diseases. In a study that explores this complexity, researchers from Stanford University looked at 18 genetic variants known to be linked to type 2 diabetes and five potential environmental contributors.

Using statistical analysis, the team, led by Dr. Atul Butte, determined that people with high blood levels of beta-carotene had a lower risk of developing diabetes, while those with high vitamin E levels were at increased risk. Vitamin E is found in corn, soybean, and canola oils as well as peanuts and tree nuts. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and is in carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and greens.

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BOTTOM LINE: Analysis of genetic and environmental factors suggests beta-carotene might protect against type 2 diabetes while vitamin E might raise risk of the disease.

CAUTIONS: More research is needed to show whether eating these nutrients can actually change someone’s diabetes risk or whether they are markers for some other substance, process, or problem causing the disease. There are almost certainly other contributors to diabetes risk. This kind of research can highlight only possible interactions, not prove they exist.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Human Genetics, online Jan. 22

Conservative cancer surgery benefits

Surgically removing a cancerous lump may be more effective than removing the entire breast, according to a study from Duke Cancer Institute. Women with early stage, invasive breast cancer who received a lumpectomy and radiation were more likely to be alive a decade later than those who had opted for a mastectomy, according to the research led by Dr. Shelley Hwang.

Hwang and her colleagues examined health records of 112,154 California women diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer between 1990 and 2004. Those over 50 with hormone-sensitive breast cancer saw the most benefit from lumpectomy and radiation. Women of all ages, races, and tumor types — except those with the largest tumors — did at least as well with a lumpectomy and radiation as with a mastectomy.

BOTTOM LINE: Although it may seem logical that removing more breast tissue is better after a cancer diagnosis, most women with early-stage cancer may do better with less aggressive surgery.

CAUTIONS: Women should always discuss their individual risks with their oncologist. This study was observational, looking back in time, so it can only suggest the possibility that lumpectomy is better for most women, not prove it. It’s also possible that the women who chose a mastectomy were in worse overall health than those who had the less drastic surgery.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Cancer, online Jan. 28

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