Eating plenty of nuts may reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by more than half, according to new research.

A study of around 3,500 patients found regular consumption reduced recurrence of the disease by 52%, with mortality rates falling by nearly a third.

Researchers said their findings applied to all types of nuts, from almonds, pistachios, pecans and brazil nuts to walnuts, peanuts, cashews and hazelnuts.

Corresponding author Professor Xiao-Ou Shu, of Vanderbilt University in the US, said: "Our study is among the first to show nut consumption was associated with up to 50% reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence, spread or mortality."

The results stood irrespective of other dietary habits, demonstrating an independent beneficial effect.

Nuts are rich in nutrients, including unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant compounds.

Prof Shu, an epidemiologist, said: "Previous lab experiments have identified several potential molecular mechanisms indicative of growth inhibitory effects of nut components on human breast cancer cells which may prevent recurrence."

Other impacts – such as lowering cholesterol levels, inhibiting oxidation and regulating cell dysfunction – may also be behind the findings.

The conclusions were based on participants in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study.

They completed a food survey five years after diagnosis and were tracked for an average of a further eight years.

Nut intake was relatively low at just over half an ounce a week on average – about 20 peanuts, 14 almonds or 16 walnut halves.

Those who ate above this amount were much less likely to relapse or die.

Doctors recommend people manage about two and a half times more as part of a balanced diet.

Prof Shu said: "Therefore, it is also possible the levels of nut consumption among breast cancer survivors in our study did not reach a threshold of health benefits."

During the follow-up period, 374 deaths occurred. Among 3,274 survivors, 209 developed breast cancer a second time.

Prof Shu said: "In summary, in this large cohort study we found nut consumption was associated with better survival."

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide and the fourth and second leading cause of cancer death among women in China and the US, respectively.

Diet has long been linked with disease risk, and survival. Nuts have long been linked with reducing the risk of life-threatening illnesses, in particular cardiovascular disease.

But they have not previously been connected with survival outcomes among breast cancer patients.

Prof Shu said: "To fill this knowledge gap, using data from a population-based cohort study, we investigated overall survival and disease-free survival in association with consumption of nuts among long-term breast cancer survivors."

He added: "Nuts are important components of healthy diets. Promoting this modifiable lifestyle factor should be emphasised in breast cancer survivor guidelines."

Breast Cancer Now, Britain's leading breast cancer charity, recommends nuts as part of a healthy diet as they are high in unsaturated fats.

Every year around 55,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease claims around 11,500 lives annually.

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