Today’s Headlines: Breast Cancer, Vaccines and Walnuts

One version of a gene may protect Latinas from breast cancer. The average woman has about a 1 in 7 chance of developing breast cancer at some point in her life, but that number drops to 1 in 10 if you’re a Latina. A new study has found that “a genetic trait protects many women of Latin American descent from breast cancer” and that the “single difference in the human genome makes Latinas who inherit it about 40% less likely to develop breast cancer.” If a woman inherits two copies of the protective version, her risk drops by 80%. “Women who carry the genetic variant have breast tissue that appears less dense on mammograms. High-density breast tissue is a known risk factor for breast cancer. The hereditary quirk appears to have originated in indigenous American peoples in South America, and it doesn’t appear equally in all Hispanic women. As many as 20% of Latinas in California are likely to have at least one copy of the variant, significantly lowering their risk of breast cancer, while about 10% of Puerto Rican women are likely to have inherited it, the researchers said.” (WSJ)

Vaccines don’t cause multiple sclerosis. Some anti-vaccine advocates had said in the past that vaccines could lead to multiple sclerosis (MS), but the studies had been small and gave conflicting evidence. “Scientists looked at about 4,700 people who received vaccines against hepatitis B (Hep B) and the human papillomavirus (HPV), and found no long-term risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) or similar nervous-system diseases.” The authors think the small association in past research may be due to a triggering effect of infections. “The vaccine, like an infection, may accelerate the disease’s progression in patients who already have MS or other neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases. It may be that after vaccinations, patients move more quickly from the ‘subclinical’ stage of the disease, when no outward symptoms are seen, to a stage with visible symptoms.” In other words, the past association was probably just an unhappy coincidence. (Fox)

Walnuts may help delay Alzheimer’s disease. Nuts have shown their health benefits over and over and a new study out this week provides just one more reason to eat them. “Researchers at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities said experiments with Alzheimer’s-susceptible mice found that subjects that consumed walnuts showed significant improvement in their learning skills and memory compared with mice without them in their diet.” Learning and memory weren’t the only beneficiaries. “The study also found improvement in motor skills and reduction in anxiety. The mice in the experiment consumed an amount of walnuts that would be the equivalent for humans of eating about 1 to 1.5 ounces of walnuts a day.” The study comes after findings that walnut extract was helpful in reducing damage caused by brain proteins involved in Alzheimer’s. This study moved on to see whether that translated to whole walnuts. (Washington Post)